Frederick Jones: National Medal of Technology Recipient
Black History Month celebrates African-Americans’ contributions to American history and development. This month the U.S. Department of Transportation will feature biographies of African American inventors and pioneers whose courage, inspiration and determination helped transform the transportation industry of America.
Frederick McKinley Jones (May 17, 1893- February 21, 1961)
Frederick Jones was born in Ohio in 1893. After a challenging childhood, he taught himself mechanical and electrical engineering, inventing a range of devices relating to refrigeration, sound and automobiles.
Frederick Jones had talent for and an interest in mechanics. He read extensively on the subject in addition to his daily work, educating himself in his spare time. By the time he was twenty, Jones was able to secure an engineering license in Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I where he was often called upon to make repairs to machines and other equipment. After the war, he returned to the farm.
It was on the Hallock farm that Jones educated himself further in electronics. When the town decided to fund a new radio station, Jones built the transmitter needed to broadcast its programming. He also developed a device to combine moving pictures with sound. Local businessman Joseph A. Numero subsequently hired Jones to improve the sound equipment he produced for the film industry.
Jones continued to expand his interests in the 1930s. He designed and patented a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food. Forming a partnership with Numero, Jones founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company. The company grew exponentially during World War II, helping to preserve blood, medicine and food. By 1949, U.S. Thermo Control was worth millions of dollars.
Over the course of his career, Jones received more than 60 patents. While the majority pertained to refrigeration technologies, others related to X-ray machines, engines and sound equipment.
Jones was recognized for his achievements both during his lifetime and after his death. In 1944, he became the first African American elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. Jones died of lung cancer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 21, 1961.
In 1991, President George H.W. Bush awarded the National Medal of Technology posthumously to Numero and Jones, presenting the awards to their widows at a ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden. Jones was the first African American to receive the award, though he did not live to receive it. He was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977.
"Frederick McKinley Jones". Hall of Fame inventor profile. National Inventors Hall of Fame. Archived from on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 01-20-2018.
Smith, Jessie Carney (2012). Black Firsts: 4,000 Ground-Breaking and Pioneering Historical Events. Visible Ink Press. p. 613.
"July 12: Frederick M. Jones Patents Refrigeration System", Rebecca Goodman and Barrett J. Brunsman, This Day in Ohio History (Emmis Books, 2005) p. 214.