Frederick McKinley Jones was a self-taught, African-American engineer who pioneered designs for mobile refrigeration. A former race car driver and mechanic, Jones created the first mechanical refrigeration system for trucks in 1935. Some of Jones’ other inventions were a portable x-ray machine, an air conditioning unit for military field hospitals, and a refrigerator for military field kitchens. A total of 61 patents were issued in Jones’ name.*
F. M. Jones had a rough start in life. His mother left his father, John Jones, at age seven, who struggled to both work and care for a son. In that era, orphanages would not readily admit a child born to an Irish dad and African-American mom. A Catholic priest, Father Ryan, took Fred in, gave him an education, and encouraged his mechanical abilities.**
Fred eventually found refuge on a large farm in Hallock, Minnesota. He discovered that he was adept at machinery and fixing things, and worked on handyman projects given him by the farm’s owner; Walter Hill. (A relative of rail tycoon James J. Hill) People in his town came to him with problems, and he would usually find a solution.
His concern for others was evident in the utility of his inventions. A doctor couldn’t move patients to the hospital for their x-rays, and so he invented a portable x-ray machine. The local movie theatre had issues with the poor audio quality of the new “talkies”, and he developed the Ultraphone Sound System so that everyone could hear the show.
He partnered with Jospeh Numero of Cinema Supplies to market his new audio system. Numero, though initially biased against Mr. Jones, soon came to treasure him as an engineer. Playing golf together, Numero made a joke that their associate Harry Werner “needed a fridge on his trucks” to solve his spoilage problems.
Frederick took the challenge seriously, and began work immediately gaining several more patents in the process. Mr Jones’ portable air-cooling units revolutionized the safe transport of produce and perishables for both the trucking and freight train industries. His invention enabled the modernization of the grocery store, and changed millions of lives through better access to fresh foods.***,**** F.M. Jones gave this advice to those seeking similar success;
“First, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Don’t be afraid to work.
Second, you have to read. All my life has been study and work.
Third, believe in yourself.” *****
We give You humble gratitude this day, Eternal Father, for being a G-d who generously shares and encourages the inventiveness of humanity! You only ask a few things of us in return: to remember that “I am the Lord your G-d…” (Exodus 20:2), that “You shall have no other gods before me…” (Exodus 20:3), and that “You shall not bow down to or worship…” (Exodus 20:4) the things that we (humans) have made. You have inspired us to create, but have mercifully given us guidelines in the use of our creations so that we do not arrogantly deify ourselves. Our lives are not long enough to express the thanksgiving You deserve!
Ruach ha Kodesh, what part of the incredible life of Frederick McKinley Jones do You wish to underscore today? Is he a type of Joseph; bringing service to those who oppose him? Is he a type of Daniel; seeing and calling to life that which doesn’t yet exist?
Like the Prince of Egypt, he found himself orphaned, yet under the tutelage of an exceptional teacher as if he was placed there for a purpose. He submitted to authority which honed and refined his character. Though both men experienced tragic betrayals and injustices, they looked beyond for their vindication. For Joseph, it came through his incredible and miraculous talents for civic planning, administration, and economics. For Mr. Jones, it came through a heart bent to help others through his G-d given genius in mechanics, science, origination, and innovation.
Similarly, Fred’s life had commonalities with the prophet Daniel. Both of these exceptional men were displaced from their homes, and were valued for their ability to learn. They were groomed to serve those foreign to them and accepted the challenge, yet their abilities went far beyond their stewards’ expectations. Through his disciplined prayer life and connection with G-d, Daniel saw hundreds of years in the future; he was the consultant of all consultants! F.M. Jones saw solutions and worked backwards to achieve them!
This leads the author to ponder the connections between acts of invention and prophetic acts. What say You, Elohim? Prophecy is both a call to the knowledge and practice of the written Word of G-d, and to relational knowledge of the Holy Spirit of Christ which simultaneously exists before, in, and after our conceptions of time. The human being who creates needs both a rudimentary core knowledge of process, matter, and materials, yet inwardly “sees” a connection previously thought impossible. All this to express heartfelt awe of this paradoxical nature of information and knowing the Informer of All!
We remember Fredrick McKinley Jones to You, and ask that You bless his literal and figurative children that find joy in machines, and happiness with dirty hands! We thank You that he chose the high path, and overcame the obstacles the enemy used to wound him: family rejection, loneliness, racial prejudice, and academic bias to name a few. Will You forgive the family of Minnesota our historic and present judgments against the Irishman, the African-American, those with ethnically mixed marriages, and their children?
Next, we ask that You replace these curses against these specific people groups with specific and powerful blessings. Will You give honor where it was taken? Will You enable these peoples to offer their inventions and prophecies to our society? Will You give our people both gifts of knowledge and commitment to eternal, unbroken relationship?
It’s astounding that the alertness, awareness, and insights of Mr. Jones made him follow through on a real problem wrapped in a joke. This one invention, a portable truck cooler, led to a whole chain of inventions around food distribution that surely was in Your mind first as a means of blessing the whole human race. What if Fred had not taken the challenge seriously? What insights and blessings have we backed down from today? Forgive our fears of doing an everyday task with greatness, or failing to see Your greatness in the nuts and blots of life! You have seen the end from the beginning, let Your people be faithful each step of the way: in attaining knowledge, in imagination, and in knowing Your benevolent nature. May we cooperate in moving Your blessings down the road to a better future for Minnesota and the whole earth! Amen!
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
***** Please watch this excellent synopsis of Frederick McKinley Jones’ life. InspirationalGoodNews!! I.G.N. (2014, December 13) citing Twin Cities Public Television ca 2004. (Making It Happen: Masters of Invention chapter “Hallock’s Handyman) Produced by Daniel Pierce Bergin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy4UkFN2njQ