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Fredrick McKinley Jones


(1893 - 1961) A brilliant engineer and inventor known primarily for developing refrigeration equipment for trucks. Jones helped develop refrigeration equipment that could be used in trucks and other forms of transportation. His inventions are the foundation on which Thermo King Corporation was built. The story begins with chickens during the unusually hot Minneapolis summer of 1938. Back then, if you wanted to get fresh chickens to market without spoiling, you could drive really, really fast, or fill up a good percentage of your cargo space with expensive blocks of messy ice. Harry Wenner was the owner of a large trucking company, and he was tired of both choices. Challenged to find a better way, Jones invented the mechanical refrigeration unit. His success where others failed has created thousands of jobs and revolutionized the food distribution business. Without Jones, Thermo King would not now be a multi-million dollar firm whose refrigeration units are used throughout the world.

At age 5, living in Cincinnati, Ohio, Jones noticed his father’s watch was not ticking, He took it apart and examined it carefully. With an instinctive sense, he figured it out what was wrong with it and fixed it. At age 14, he was a full-time mechanic. He was a skinny kid, half black and half Irish, who ran after cars, fought in the streets, and took every mechanical thing apart. His black mother deserted him shortly after his birth. Later, his father gave him away. He moved to Hallock, Minnesota. This was back in the days when most "talkies" were "squawkies" at the local movie theatre. Factory-made machines used a chain drive to attach the turntables to the projector, but this metal on metal vibration distorted the sound. Jones used a glass towel rack and two plow coulters in making a sound-pickup system. With other gidgets and gadgets, the sound from his system was so clear that patronage increased and the owners paid the mortgage on the movie house.

This self-taught professional, who had only four years of formal schooling, eventually rose to be chief engineer and vice-president of Thermo King Corporation. Although Jones was a black man working in a white man’s world, he won the respect of all who knew him. It also led to his election as an honorary member of the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers, the first black member. Jones was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George H. W. Bush at a White House ceremony on September 16, 1991, in recognition of a lifetime of technological achievement.

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