Supermarkets and other food industries would not be where they are today if it wasn't for Black inventor Frederick McKinley Jones. The self-taught engineer invented the refrigerated truck, which allows various goods to be preserved cold for long-distance transportation.
To understand how we got mobile refrigeration from this mind, let's see where he started. Jones was born on May 17, 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio to a white father and Black mother. From a very young age, Jones had a talent for mechanics and electricity. He was educating himself extensively when he wasn't working, especially during a time where Black people weren't given much opportunities. At 20 years old, Jones secured an engineering license in Minnesota.
The Black engineer served in the U.S. Army during World War I for repairs to machines and other equipment. After the war, Jones would go on to create his world-changing invention in the 1930s: the refrigerated truck. The vehicle allowed perishable foods and goods to be transported long distances and eventually overseas.
"Today, long-distance transportation of perishables is commonplace. But in the 1930s, transport of products requiring climate controlled conditions was still a risky enterprise. Options were limited: ice was itself perishable, electronic refrigeration units required layovers at power sources, and early attempts at road-worthy cooling units had been foiled by the damaging effects of vibration," according to the Minnesota Science & Technology Hall of Fame when speaking on the significance of Jones' invention.
Jones patented the system in 1940. He sold the invention to the company Thermo King and became co-owner of it, as well. While the truck would see some tweaks over time to make the units lighter and smaller, the overall idea still remains solely his. Boats, planes and other vehicles would adopt this refrigeration system to supercharge the global agriculture and food industries into what it is today.
"Jones' technological breakthrough redefined the global marketplace, with cultural reverberations felt from the world's largest cities to its most isolated villages. Consumers and distributors could now have year-round access to products such as meat, dairy, frozen foods and fresh produce. Temperature sensitive goods such as live poultry could be safely transported," the historical organization wrote.
According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Jones had other notable inventions. This includes the portable x-ray machine, an air conditioning unit for military field hospitals, and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. The iconic engineer got 61 patents under his name before he passed away in 1961 at 68. He was also the first Black American to receive the National Medal of Technology posthumously in 1991.
Whenever you ever look to a truck hauling some of your favorite food brands to your local grocery store, keep this legend in mind.
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