Saturday, May 9, 2015

Conditioned air and the legend of Frederick McKinley Jones...

Recently, the temperature in my city hit the eighty degree mark. Now, even though that's nothing unusual for this time of year, after coming out of a brutal winter, those kinds of drastic changes in temperature, do have an effect on people. Oddly enough, that day, I actually wiped some sweat off my brow.

Then, I entered a mall. And immediately, I was comforted by the deliciously crisp, coolness of air conditioning. And as I breathed in the ambrosial air, and traversed past several retail shops, a recurring thought came to me. Not only did the presence of conditioned air make me realize that spring had officially sprung; but as I looked around at hordes of white people placidly shopping, I thought about how the air had been 'conditioned' to make me more comfortable, and how collectively, the minds of Black folk have been thoroughly conditioned, to make them more comfortable around us.

Then, I thought about a factoid that I heard an elder brotha state on TV; and it made me curious enough to do some research on air conditioning. And here's what I found in that research...

Frederick McKinley Jones, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on May 17th, 1893. He was abandoned at age nine and raised in a Kentucky orphanage. Being that Jones was a young Black man, this environment was probably exceptionally hostile, so Fred left school and the orphanage after sixth grade, to return to Cincinnati. Once there, he got a job as a maintenance worker, and by age fourteen, he was working as a car mechanic.

Jones had a natural mechanical ability and a very curious mind that he fed with his independent reading and studies. In 1912, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota, where he again worked as a mechanic, but this time, it was for a farm. After this, Fred served a stint in the armed forces during World War I. Then he returned to Hallock, and while still employed as a mechanic, taught himself the fundamentals of electronics. Shortly thereafter, he built a transmitter for the town's new radio station. He also invented a device that could synch sound with motion pictures. This caught the attention of Joesph Numero, who hired him to work in his company, Cinema Supplies Inc. in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The year was 1930.

Now, in 1935, Fred would create the invention that should have made him famous. One day, an executive of his company, complained about his farm products spoiling during shipping. When Fred's employer hinted to other executives, how they should build a truck that could keep farm products fresh in transit, Fred went to work creating the idea. He cobbled together disparate mechanical parts, and when he was finished, he attached his invention onto a truck's frame.

Frederick McKinely Jones had just invented the world's first refrigerated truck. This meant perishable food items could be transported without the risk of spoilage.

Jones’s invention was an instant commercial success. His employer formed a company to make the new machines, and Jones became vice-president of the company. Jone’s mechanical refrigerating system was soon placed in ships and railway cars. And today, that same system is used to transport rocket fuel. Fred's refrigeration unit, became the first product of the 'Thermo King Corporation', supposedly founded by Joe Numero...but we all know, or should know, that 'Thermo King' was really founded by Fred Jones.

But there's more/Moor to this story...when Fred was enlisted in the armed forces during World War I, he created another invention; this one, was a portable AIR CONDITIONER, that the u.s. government used to preserve medicines and blood serum.

After doing some more research, you'll find that Fred had 61 patents to his name. Several other inventions that he never patented, were nonetheless, ripped off by whites. But some inventions he did secure patents for include: a portable 'X-ray' machine, sound equipment and gasoline engines. And evidence points to Fred being the one who created the first device for 'talking' movies, when he worked at Joe's other company, Cinema Supplies Inc. Fred just never got this invention patented.


Now, if you're a Black man or woman reading this, the next time you enter any retail space, government office, or even your own home, and feel some conditioned air, know that one of your own kind was responsible for this feat of ingenuity.

*Side note: I can distinctly remember reading a white journalist's article about the pioneers of early cinema. In it, the journalist says emphatically, that Black people had no hand in the earliest inventions of modern day film-making. Now, I knew that had to be a lie, but I didn't have any evidence to back that up. But Fred Jones' invention that bought in the era of ‘talking’ movies, proves that the white journalist's statement was completely bogus. And the moral of Fred's story is, if you do enough research into any of the world's sciences...or inventions, you will find the Black Diaspora at their genesis.

And like Sam Jackson said in the movie, 'Do the Right Thing': “That's the triple truth, Ruth.”



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