African American Spotlight: Frederick McKinley Jones (February 2022)

February 28, 2022

The Southeastern Synod’s Diversity and Justice team is shining a spotlight on the hidden figures of history. These individuals deserve to be celebrated for their contributions to inventions, charity, civil rights, politics, the arts, and beyond.  Join us each month in our celebration of African Americans throughout the year.


Frederick McKinely Jones

Frederick McKinley Jones

Frederick McKinley Jones was born May 17, 1893, in Covington, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio.  He served in France in World War I. After he returned home, he worked as a garage mechanic, and with this experience, he developed a self-starting gasoline motor. His mastery of electronic devices was largely self-taught, through work experience and the inventing process.

After brief stints working aboard a steamship and a hotel, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota began designing and building race cars. In the late 1920s, Jones designed a series of devices for the developing movie industry, which adapted silent movie projectors to use talking movie stock. He also developed an apparatus for the movie box office that delivers tickets and returns change to customers. He also invented a snowmobile. Frederick Jones was granted more than 40 patents in the field of refrigeration.

In 1935, he invented the first automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and railroad cars 1935 (a roof-mounted cooling device). This system eliminated the risk of food spoilage during long-distance shipping trips and was later adapted to a variety of other common carriers, including ships and railway cars.  His patent was issued in 1949.

Jones's pioneering designs for mobile refrigeration units led to the formation of the Thermo-King Corporation (Minneapolis) in 1935 and revolutionized the field of transport refrigeration for trucks, railcars, and ships.  His invention radically altered American consumer's eating habits; now people could eat fresh produce across the United States during the middle of summer or winter. Frederick Jones also developed an air-conditioning unit for military field hospitals and a refrigerator for military field kitchens.

Jones was one of the most prolific Black inventors ever. Frederick Jones patented more than 50 inventions but is best known for inventing a practical automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks died on February 21, 1961. For more information, please select the link to watch a short YouTube video