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Spotlight on African Americans in Science

Since Benjamin Banneker and George Washington Carver left their marks on American science, African Americans have made great strides as scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and inventors. » more

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Frederick McKinley Jones

by admin last modified 2008-06-27 10:51

Frederick McKinley Jones was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 17, 1893. Growing up as an orphan and not attending school beyond grade eight, Jones was ultimately to become one of the most prolific black inventors.

Frederick McKinley Jones
Frederick McKinley Jones

His genius, as well as his skill and knowledge of mechanical and electrical devices, is evidenced by his 60 patents in divergent fields.  Forty of those patents were related to refrigeration.

Jones invented the first practical and automatic refrigeration unit for trucks, which eliminated the problem of food spoilage over long hauls, thus making fresh produce available over wide areas.  Subsequently, the unit was adapted to a variety of other carriers, including ships and railway cars.

His invention facilitated the development of international markets for food crops; led to the creation of total industries such as frozen foods, fast foods and container shipping; and altered consumers' eating habits.

Jones's contribution to the World War II effort includes several timely and necessary inventions such as a portable refrigeration unit, which was used to transport vitally needed blood serum and medicines on the battlefields of Europe; an air conditioning unit for military field hospitals designed for the primary purpose of maintaining the temperature of blood serum; and a portable x-ray unit.

Some of his other inventions were specifically designed for the then-fledgling movie industry and include the first process that enabled movie projectors to play back recorded sound—talking pictures—and a box-office device that automatically distributed tickets and change to customers.

Despite his exploits in the movie industry, Jones was primarily concerned with refrigeration.  Recognized as an authority in the field and elected to membership in the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers, he also served as a consultant for the Defense Department and the U.S. Bureau of Standards.

Jones also founded a company jointly with his former boss in the motion picture business, Joseph Numero.  The company, Thermo King Corp. (initially called the U.S. Thermo Control Company), is a world leader in transport temperature control equipment today, operating on a global scale with manufacturing plants in various countries and accessing global markets.

In 1991, Frederick Jones and his partner were awarded the National Medal of Technology posthumously.


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