Frederick McKinley Jones: successful inventor and entrepreneur

Thehara D – Year 12 Student

Editor’s note: This short essay was was entered into the GSAL Black History Month Essay Competition 2022. The purpose of the competition was to encourage students to undertake independent research, think critically and communicate clearly about any aspect of black history specific to the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). The challenge was to write a 500-word essay on any aspect of black history in the field of STEM. CPD

It’s no secret that STEM is- and has been- dominated by a succession of preponderantly white men throughout history. Diversity isn’t exactly the history books’ strong suit when it boils down to deciding who ends up a household name till the end of time, and whose achievements are left to gather dust.

All of us undeniably benefit from Frederick McKinley Jones’ inventions today without granting it a second thought. From X-ray machines to mobile ticket dispensers, Jones paved the way for African American inventors to take a stand against belittlement and proving that making yourself a necessity to society creates an offer they simply cannot refuse. Not only was he an inventor, but an entrepreneur, engineer and winner of the National Medal of Technology. He was the first African American to receive this.

Frederick’s invention of the mobile fridge was perhaps the most significant: essential to the advancement of modern technology. In 1920s America, fresh fruit in supermarkets- for instance pineapples and coconuts- were quite literally a faraway, laughable dream before his idea. However, this invention impacts people on a global scale today

In recent times, Jones’ mobile fridges were in action more than ever in 2020, when the world was in dire need for vaccines. Samples needed transportation across continents, as scientists worked tirelessly trialling them, trying to find a way out of the pandemic. Given they could not be stored in high temperatures, Jones’ mobile fridges played an essential role.

Frederick came from little, raised by a railroad worker father. After leaving school at 11, he became a garage cleaning boy and shortly, an automobile mechanic. Jones was mostly self-taught due to his brief education, but his experience with engineering young allowed him to learn through physical work. By 17, he moved to Minnesota to be a mechanic for the owner of the Great Northern Railroad, (feeling frustrated by the shackles and underestimation back in Ohio) to enhance and sharpen his skills.

Despite Jones’ extensive knowledge, he was often ridiculed, encountering racism throughout the breadth of his career. Regardless of his adoration of racing cars during his teenage years, many bigoted drivers refused to compete with him due to the colour of his skin. They feared it. They were petrified by the coexistence of intellect and coloured skin. As a result, he was barred from competitions.

Who would ever believe that a white man had lost to a black one?

Of course, this wasn’t the only time Jones was underestimated as a black man in 1920s America. He was fascinated by electronics, engineering a device for theatres to combine sound and motion pictures. He trialled it on a small theatre in his town, catching the attention of Joe Numero, an entrepreneur. Numero was rapt by his invention and, without meeting him in person, offered Jones a job to improve sound equipment in his company. However, when Jones showed up at his office, Numero believed it to be a joke, finding the idea of a genius black man incomprehensible.

One day, while Numero was playing golf with a trucking business owner, he told him how he wished someone would come up with a refrigerated trailer. A bet of $5 that genius Jones could fashion one led to a prototype being generated in weeks; thus started ‘Thermo King’.

This African American inventor should be an inspiration to all; mobile fridges didn’t just help food industries, but also military units during wars, transporting blood, medicine and food for troops on the front lines. The vaccines are evidence of how we heavily use his invention, and are ignorant to the brains behind them. His successful life was down to perseverance and drive that motivating him to continually invent despite the challenges he refused to allow to dispirit him.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s