Meet the African American who invented Refrigerated Trucks


During World War II, Frederick Jones is best known for developing refrigeration technology used to transport food and blood.

After a difficult childhood, Frederick Jones taught himself mechanical and electrical engineering and invented a variety of refrigeration, sound, and automobile-related gadgets. During World War II, Jones’ portable refrigeration machines helped the United States military transport food and blood.

Early Life

Frederick McKinley Jones was born on May 17, 1893 to a white father and a black mother in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a small child, he was abandoned by his mother. Frederick’s father struggled to raise him on his own, but when he was seven years old, he sent him to Kentucky to live with a priest. After two years, his father passed away. This living arrangement lasted two years. Jones, at the age of 11 and with limited education, ran away to fend for himself. He went to Cincinnati and found various jobs, including working as a janitor at a garage, where he gained an aptitude for car maintenance. He was so skilled that he was promoted to shop foreman. Later, he moved on, once more accepting odd jobs wherever he could. In 1912, he arrived in Hallock, Minnesota, where he secured a position performing mechanical labor on a farm.


Jones was skilled and interested in mechanics. In addition to his everyday duties, he educated himself in his spare time by reading widely on the topic. Jones was able to obtain a Minnesota engineering license by the time he was twenty years old. During World War I, he was frequently called upon by the United States Army to repair machinery and other equipment. Following the conflict, he returned to the farm.

Jones expanded his knowledge of electronics on the farm of the Hallocks. When the municipality chose to fund a new radio station, Jones constructed the station’s transmitter. He also created a system that combines moving images with audio. Joseph A. Numero, a local businessman, subsequently engaged Jones to improve the sound equipment he manufactured for the film industry.
Jones expanded his pursuits throughout the 1930s. He created and patented a portable air-cooling system for trucks transporting perishable food. Jones established the U.S. Thermo Control Company in collaboration with Numero. During World War II, the corporation grew dramatically by preserving blood, medicine, and food. U.S. Thermo Control was valued millions of dollars by 1949.

Patents and Accolades

Jones obtained more than sixty patents throughout his career. Others concerned X-ray machines, engines, and sound equipment, but the bulk linked to refrigeration technologies.

Jones was honored for his accomplishments both during and after his lifetime. 1944 saw his election as the first African American to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. Jones died of lung cancer on February 21, 1961 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology to Numero and Jones, delivering the medals to their widows in the White House Rose Garden. Jones was the first African-American to receive the honor, but he passed away before receiving it. 1977 marked his induction into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame.

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