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Tue, 05.17.1892

Frederick McKinley Jones, innovator of many devices

Frederick M.Jones

This date in 1893 marks the birth of Frederick Jones, a Black inventor.

Frederick McKinley Jones was born in Covington, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 17, 1893.  He served in France in World War I. After he returned home he worked as a garage mechanic, and with this experience, he developed a self-starting gasoline motor. His mastery of electronic devices was largely self-taught, through work experience and the inventing process. After brief stints working aboard a steamship and a hotel, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota began designing and building race cars and drove them at local tracks and at county fairs. His favorite car was known as Number 15 and it was so well designed it not only defeated other automobile but once won a race against an airplane.  He soon took a job as a mechanic on railroad magnate James J. Hill's famous farm in Kittson County.

In the late 1920s, Jones designed a series of devices for the developing movie industry, which adapted silent movie projectors to use talking movie stock. He also developed an apparatus for the movie box-office that delivers tickets and returns change to customers. He also invented a snowmobile. Frederick Jones was granted more than 40 patents in the field of refrigeration.

In 1935, he invented the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and railroad cars in 1935 (a roof-mounted cooling device). This system eliminated the risk of food spoilage during long-distance shipping trips, and was later adapted to a variety of other common carriers, including ships and railway cars.  His patent was issued in 1949.

Jones's pioneering designs for mobile refrigeration units led to the formation of the Thermo-King Corporation (Minneapolis) in 1935 and revolutionized the field of transport refrigeration for trucks, railcars, and ships.  His invention radically altered American consumer's eating habits; now people could eat eat fresh produce across the United States during the middle of summer or winter. Frederick Jones also developed an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens.

Jones was one of the most prolific African American inventors ever. Frederick Jones patented more than 60 inventions, but is best known for inventing a practical automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks died February 21, 1961.

Minnesota Historical Society
345 W. Kellogg Blvd.
Saint Paul, MN 55102-1906

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