McKinley Jones was born in Covington, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, Ohio, on May 17,
1893. He served in France in World War I. After he returned home he worked as a
garage mechanic, and with this experience, he developed a self-starting gasoline
motor. His mastery of electronic devices was largely self-taught, through work
experience and the inventing process. After brief stints working aboard a steamship
and a hotel, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota and began designing and building
race cars which he drove at local tracks and at county fairs. His favorite car was
known as # 15 and it was so well designed it not only defeated other automobile butonce triumphed in a race against an airplane.
He soon took a job as a mechanic on railroad magnate James J. Hill's famous 50,000 acre farm in KittsonCounty. Jones taught himself electronics and built a transmitter for the town's new radio station.
He also invented a device to combine sound with motion pictures. This attracted the attention of JosephA. Numero of Minneapolis who hired Jones in 1930 to improve the sound equipment made by his firm,
Cinema Supplies Inc.
Around 1935, Jones designed a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food, and
received a patent for it on July 12, 1940. Numero sold his movie sound equipment business to RCA and
formed a new company in partnership with Jones, the U.S. Thermo Control Company (later the Thermo King Corporation) which became a $3 million business by 1949.Portable cooling units designed by Jones were especially important during World War II, preserving blood, medicine, and food for use at army hospitalsand on open battlefields.
During his lifetime, Jones was awarded 61 patents; 40 were for refrigeration equipment, while others
were for portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines.
In 1944, Jones became the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. He was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977. In 1991, The National
Medal of Technology was awarded to Joseph A. Numero and Frederick M. Jones. President George Bush
presented the awards posthumously to their widows at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
Jones was the first African American to receive the award.