Entertaining real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life
Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable lessons on how to succeed in business and in life. The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on February 3rd, 2015

Frederick "Fred" McKinley Jones: He revolutionized the delivery of refrigerated food.

Fred McKinley Jones
Fred McKinley Jones   Photo: blackinventor.com

Because of Fred's landmark cooling inventions, supermarkets, quickie marts and restaurants and cafeterias exist as we know them today.

Until the 1930's shipping perishable foods was iffy. But in 1935 Fred created the first reliable automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks, and subsequently adapted his cooling system for trains, ships and busses.

Thanks to Fred, foods and other perishable items, including medicines and blood, can be shipped with confidence anywhere on the planet.

But Fred's own story is even more interesting.

Born in Covington, Kentucky in 1893, across the river from Cincinnati, to an Irish father and an African American mother, their family of three struggled in poverty and Fred's mother left them.

Unable to be a single parent, his father sent Fred at age 7 to be raised and educated in a Catholic rectory. Two years later, Fred learned his father had died and he was an orphan.

Eventually Fred rebelled against the church's strict rules and at the age of 11, he moved to Cincinnati and worked as a janitor in an auto mechanic shop. His formal education ended in the 6th grade.

When Fred turned 14, the legal age of employment, he became a full-time mechanic. He was so talented, that by the time he turned 15, he was the shop supervisor.

At 20, Fred moved to Hallock, Minnesota to repair and maintain the equipment, trucks and cars on a 50,000 acre farm, a huge job.

During this time, by reading, and through correspondence school, Fred learned electronics and mechanical and electrical engineering.

Fred created the town's first radio station transmitter and he created a machine that gave silent movies sound.

In the late 1920's, when silent movies became "talkies," Minnesota businessman Joseph Numero hired Fred to improve the sound equipment his company provided to the movie industry.

But hiring Fred to a senior job was controversial. Why?

Because Fred was black and in this time, long before the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960's Fred was a second class citizen who could be easily denied many of his legal rights.

But Numero didn't share in that bigotry.

Meanwhile, Fred kept developing the portable air cooling units to ship perishable foods long distance. In 1937, he and NĂºmero co-founded what later became the Thermo King Corporation to build those units and in the process, introduce the world to the frozen food era.

The business was so successful, that when Fred passed away in 1961 at the age of 67, Thermo King employed 3,000 people and was worth $250 million (about $2.5 billion today).

Success Tip of the Week: Being black, orphaned and having a 6th grade formal education didn't stop Fred from changing the world. Whatever your limitations, you too can achieve your dreams.

Editor's Note: Fred was featured in "How We Got To Now," a BBC One and PBS Series. To learn more about Fred's incredible story, visit encyclopedia.com and blackinventor.com/fred-jones/.

In the next KazanToday: The man who called himself "The first Puerto Rican everything."

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