With little formal education, Frederick McKinley Jones taught himself through practical training to become one of the world’s leading inventors of the 20th Century.
Born in Ohio to a black mother and a white father on May 17, 1893, Jones was raised by his father in his early formative years. At age 7, he lived with a Catholic priest in Kentucky for two years and left to fend for himself.
He did menial jobs in Cincinnati till he landed an apprenticeship at the R.C. Crothers garage where he developed a love for automobile mechanics.
He quickly caught on with the job watching the mechanics perform their daily duties, taking in as much information as possible that he became the foreman for the place in a space of three years.
He later moved on, doing more menial jobs anywhere he could till 1912 when he was hired on a farm in Hallock as a mechanic.
By age 19, Jones had built and driven several cars in racing exhibitions and soon became one of the most well-known racers in the Great Lakes region. At 20 years, he secured an engineering licence in Minnesota.
He was enlisted for World War I by the U.S Army where he put his engineering skills to use. He was the go-to person to call when machines and equipment broke down. He also served in France as an electrician.
After the war, he returned to Hallock, Minnesota and broadened his knowledge in electronics. He built a transmitter for a local radio station as he returned to his farm work.
He took on the task of driving local doctors on their hospital rounds during the winter. With increased difficulty in navigation, Jones put his hands to work again, attaching skis to the undercarriage of an old airplane body and attaching an airplane propeller to a motor. This enabled him to transport the doctors without much hustle in his new “snow machine.”
He is known to have immensely contributed to the film industry as well, as he developed a device that combined moving pictures with sound. A local businessman, Joseph A. Numero, then hired Jones to enhance the sound equipment he produced for the film industry.
He later patented an automatic ticket-dispensing machine in 1939 to be used at movie theaters.
On a hot summer night in 1937 whiles driving, Jones decided to invent air conditioning for cars and trucks. This invention did not only have passenger comfort in mind, as Jones discovered that farmers who produce food in large quantities would need his car cooling device but in a different sense.
The truckers who travelled across the country needed a better cooling system for the produce because the ice melted quickly on the journey, which caused the food to deteriorate before it reached its destination.
Jones put his thinking cap on and his automatic refrigeration system, the Thermo King, was born. He operated it with Numero. Ultimately, he modified the original design so it could be outfitted for trains, boats, and ships.
This is one of Jones’s flagship designs that has been of great help to the frozen food industry and grocery stores the world over. It has also helped the import and export of exotic produce from around the world with the freshness of the food guaranteed.
The company soared in profits. During World War II, the cooling systems were of great help to the blood banks at the war front. It also helped preserve the medicine and food for the soldiers.
As a result, many lives were saved. Today, modern versions of his device are still in use. Jones and Numero’s U.S. Thermo Control Company soon became a multimillion-dollar company by 1949.
Jones, meanwhile, became the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers in 1944. Also, he got the honour of consulting for the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Bureau of Standards in the 1950s.
Before his death on February 21, 1961, Jones had more than 60 patents, 40 of which were in the refrigeration sector. He was also inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977.
In honor of his incredible accomplishments as an inventor, he was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. Jones was notably the first black inventor to be bestowed with such an honor.