Who Invented Portable Refrigeration?

by | Oct 1, 2021 | Portable Refrigeration

In today’s digital world it’s hard to imagine the invention of something as commonplace as portable refrigeration would be of any importance. However, portable refrigeration played a pivotal role in how food was delivered to avoid spoilage, as well as the shipment of blood and medicine in World War II. Today from ice cream vendors in your local parks to safe food delivery and from food storage at special events to cold storage following a catastrophe, portable refrigeration plays an important role in our everyday lives. Here we tell the story of Frederick Jones and his contribution to portable refrigeration.

What is Portable Refrigeration?

First, let’s look at what portable refrigeration is and isn’t. You might associate portable refrigeration with something like a little bar or wine fridge. However, in this case, the term portable relates to the fact that the fridges can be moved. While today we tend to use the term “mobile”, the term portable was far more common to describe these types of items at the time the portable refrigerator was invented. Today portable refrigeration comes in a number of types and sizes from portable ice cream fridges to large portable fridge trailers. Common portable refrigeration includes:

Portable Refrigeration is in high demand for events, outdoor weddings, fairs, emergency storage during severe weather events, concerts, and more.

The Brainchild of Frederick Jones

Jones was an African American inventor and entrepreneur, holding over 60 patents for his inventions. Included in his patents is the portable refrigerator. What makes Jones’ contributions so amazing is that he was able to come up with his inventions in the heart of Jim Crow and widespread racism against Black Americans. This self-taught orphan born in 1893, overcame adversity at every turn and came out ahead. He was a genius whose contributions include not just the portable fridge, but also radio transmitters, automated gasoline motors and movie sound equipment.

Frederick Jones’ Childhood

Jones faced adversity from a very early age. He was the child of a black father and white mother, who deserted him when he was very young. Although his father tried to care for his son, he wasn’t able to cope and at the age of 9, Jones was left in the care of a priest. Jones left the educational system in grade 6 when he found a job as a janitor in a repair shop. His exposure to mechanics inspired him to become a self-taught mechanical engineer. He was so talented it wasn’t long before he became foreman of the shop.

Life On the Farm

Jones left the shop and found work at a farm in Minnesota. He continued to pursue his passion for learning and by the age of 20 he secured an engineering license in Minnesota. He would later return to the farm following the war, where he would further his self-taught skills in electronics.

World War I

During the first world war, Jones enlisted in the army and was deployed to France where he fixed military gear. He earned a name for himself as a skilled repairman and carried his skills over to a career when he came home after the war. His career included working on a steamship, on the railroads, in hotels and in a repair shop gaining more and more knowledge with every repair he made.

The Age of Invention

As he worked, Jones came up with a number of ideas. His first inventions included a radio transmitter created for a radio station in Minnesota, a self-starting gasoline motor and racing cars he used to compete in races. His cars were so well made he beat out his opponents. His contribution to movie sound equipment in the late 1920s had an impact on the advancement into the age of the “talkie”.


Portable Refrigeration for Railroad Cars

Of the over 60 patents and inventions Jones came up with, it was the invention of the first portable automatic refrigeration system that had the most impact. The invention was used in railroad cars and trucks helping avoid food spoilage in the mid-1930s. The storage was also crucial to avoid the spoilage of blood and medicine during World War II. His portable fridges led to the founding of U.S. Thermo Control Company later known as the Thermo King Corporation.

Forty of Jones’ inventions were for refrigeration equipment. However, his contributions included portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines.

Almost 90 years later the important invention of Frederick Jones is still being used today. His inquisitive mind and natural talent for understanding all things mechanical helped improve the way we ship and store food, blood and medicine.

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