True innovation
How One Man Revolutionized The Food Industry
Kier Strader-Monaghan | February 26, 2016

Picture this: You just moved from Seattle to Kansas City and you’re craving some seafood for dinner. At the store, you pick up some fresh shrimp for tonight’s dinner and frozen Alaskan salmon for later on in the week. But what if you could only eat seafood if you lived near the ocean or were willing to pay a high price?

Because of mobile refrigeration technology, consumers are able to choose fresh or frozen shrimp for a low price, anytime they want, even in a landlocked state hundreds of miles from an ocean. This is thanks to Frederick McKinley Jones, the inventor of the first mobile refrigeration system. Jones, who was orphaned at 9, worked odd jobs until he became a mechanic. With an interest in electronics, Jones built a radio transmitter and local businessman Joseph Numero subsequently hired him to work on audio equipment. In 1940, Jones invented and patented a portable air-conditioning unit that could be used in trucks transporting perishable food, thus giving rise to mobile refrigeration.

The mobile refrigeration system completely transformed the distribution of food and was quickly implemented in trucks, trains, ships, and planes. For the first time, fresh produce, meats, and dairy were available nationwide and year-round. In partnership with Numero, Jones founded Thermo King Corporation, which grew rapidly during World War II when it worked to preserve blood, medicine, and other perishables. Still in operation today, the company transports internationally and has billions in sales each year.

Over his career, Jones received more than sixty patents for his ideas, forty of which were for refrigeration equipment. Jones was the first African American to be inducted into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers and posthumously, he was the first African American to be awarded the National Medal of Technology.