Frederick McKinley Jones – The King of Cool


Born in 1893, Frederick McKinley Jones is one of the most celebrated African-American inventors in history.

Regardless of whether he was turning his hand to racing cars or movie theatres, there was nothing conventional about Frederick.

Before the age of 10, he was living in a rectory, having become orphaned. He ended up running away and finding work in a garage. This is where his love of vehicles was born.

This love would see him fired at the age of 19, having skipped work to visit a speed car race.

Following this, he worked on steamship repair, furnace repair, and farm machinery repair and maintenance.

If there was something to be fixed, he would fix it.

Helping people one at a time

Close to those in his community, Frederick would often help local residents with problems they had. It was through this that he helped develop one of the first snowmobile prototypes to help locals deliver goods.

Additionally, he helped a local doctor make it easier for his patients to get X-rays, through inventing one of the first portable X-Ray machines.

His first big breakthrough was when he wanted to help a local movie theatre. They were struggling as all their technology was for silent movies, but the latest ones had dialogue. Upgrading the equipment would have bankrupted the owner, so Frederick invented a way of doing it cheaply. Not only was it cheaper, but it turned out to sound even better than the technology being used by the major chains of the time.

These chains even ended up buying the rights to it.

How warm chicken ended up saving thousands of lives

Frederick’s next invention would prove to be the one that he is most remembered for.

It begins with a chicken.

At this time, food producers would rely on large blocks of ice to keep vehicles cool enough to transport food. This was difficult to control, often resulting in food going off as it was being delivered.

One supplier had just lost a shipment of chickens due to this, and had been complaining about it on the golf-course to an associate of Frederick. He wanted to know why no-one had invented a truck that had a refrigerator built in.

So, Frederick took the challenge on.

Not long afterwards, the ‘Thermo King’ was invented.

This revolutionised the shipping and grocery business, giving birth to the frozen food industry.

Even more importantly, Frederick would adapt this invention for military use, helping transport blood and save thousands of lives.

This also led to his nickname, “The King of Cool”.

A life of firsts

It was not just his inventions that were the first of their kind.

Frederick also became the first African American inducted into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers in 1944, as well as the first to receive the National Medal of Technology.

It was never about money or personal rewards though, he had a vision – a vision to help fix everyday problems.

He never stopped innovating – never stopped improving. Thanks to Frederick we now have refrigerated vehicles, carrying everything from frozen food to blood.

At SMLL, we take inspiration from Frederick. We want to help as many people as possible, so that they can then go and do the same.

We see the future of transport as lots of challenges, some big and some small, but which tackled together will help millions of people.

Join us today to see what you can invent to make a difference.