Frederick McKinley Jones

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Frederick McKinley Jones
Frederick McKinley Jones.png
Born(1893-05-17)May 17, 1893
DiedFebruary 21, 1961(1961-02-21) (aged 67)
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Frederick McKinley Jones (May 17, 1893 – February 21, 1961) was an American inventor, entrepreneur, winner of the National Medal of Technology, and an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[1] His innovations in refrigeration brought great improvement to the long-haul transportation of perishable goods.[2] He co-founded Thermo King.[1]

Early life[edit]

Jones was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 17, 1893[2] to a White father and Black mother. His mother deserted him when he was a child. His father struggled to raise him on his own.[3] After he was virtually orphaned at the age of seven, he was raised by a priest at a Catholic rectory in Cincinnati.[4] Jones left school after 6th grade and left the rectory to return to Cincinnati at age 11, where he got a job first as a cleaning boy and by age 14 he was working as an automobile mechanic. He boosted his natural mechanical ability and inventive mind with independent reading and study and the willingness to seek new pastures in his search for advancement, against the odds.[4]


In 1912, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota, where he worked as a mechanic on a 50,000-acre (200 km2) farm.[3]

After service with the U.S. Army in World War I, Jones returned to Hallock; while employed as a mechanic, Jones taught himself electronics and built a transmitter for the town's new radio station. He also invented a device to combine sound with motion pictures. This attracted the attention of Joseph A. Numero of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who hired Jones in 1930 to improve the sound equipment made by his firm, Cinema Supplies Inc.


Around 1938, Jones designed a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food,[4] and received a patent for it on July 12, 1940.[5] Numero sold his movie sound equipment business to RCA and formed a new company in partnership with Jones, the U.S. Thermo Control Company (later the Thermo King Corporation) which became a $3 million business by 1949. Portable cooling units designed by Jones were especially important during World War II, preserving blood, medicine, and food for use at army hospitals and on open battlefields.

Distinctions and honors[edit]

During his life, Jones was awarded 61 patents. Forty were for refrigeration equipment, while others went for portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines.

  • 1953 Merit Award, Phyllis Wheatley Auxiliary, "for outstanding achievements which serve as an inspiration to youth."
  • In 1977, he was posthumously inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame.[4]
  • In 1991, the National Medal of Technology was awarded to Joseph A. Numero and Frederick M. Jones. President George Bush presented the awards posthumously to their widows at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden. Jones was the first African American to receive the award.[4]
  • In the March 2009 issue of Heavy Duty Truck magazine, editor Tom Berg dubbed Jones "The King of Cool", and wrote that his "technological breakthrough redefined the global marketplace, with cultural reverberations felt from the world's largest cities to its most isolated villages."[4]


He died of lung cancer in Minneapolis in 1961.[4]



  1. ^ a b "Frederick McKinley Jones". Hall of Fame inventor profile. National Inventors Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  2. ^ a b "Frederick McKinley Jones". Black History Pages. Retrieved February 22, 2011.
  3. ^ a b "Frederick Jones". Biography. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Frederick McKinley Jones". Minnesota Science and Technology Hall of Fame. Minnesota High Tech Association / Science Museum of Minnesota. Retrieved January 2, 2018.
  5. ^ Smith, Jessie Carney (2012). Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events. Visible Ink Press. p. 613. ISBN 978-1-57859-424-5.

Further reading[edit]