Frederick “Mr. Freeze” Jones

Mr. Freeze, the supervillain to Batman, was created by Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff and Dave Wood of DC Comics in 1957. Long before Mr. Freeze, the supervillain, the original Mr. Freeze, Frederick Jones, was born in 1892 just outside of Cincinnati and he was no supervillain at all. In fact, he was an automotive mechanic, a shop manager, a race car driver, an entrepreneur, an engineer, a veteran and most impressively, an inventor.

While at the supermarket, most people take for granted that their food, and its additives, not only had to be transported from another location but that it had to be kept at a low temperature to prevent spoilage. Refrigerating food is a very old idea, but up until the middle of the 20th century, nobody had figured out how to transport perishables over a long distance. Frederick Jones found a way and transformed the American industry.

Frederick Jones had an interest in, and a talent for, mechanics. He read extensively on the subject in addition to his daily work, educating himself in his spare time. By the time he was twenty, Jones was able to secure an engineering license in Minnesota. He served in the U.S. Army during World War I where he was often called upon to make repairs to machines and other equipment. After the war, he found work on a farm in Minnesota. It was on the Hallock farm that Jones educated himself further in electronics. When the town decided to fund a new radio station, Jones built the transmitter needed to broadcast its programming. He also developed a device to combine moving pictures with sound. Local businessman Joseph A. Numero subsequently hired Jones to improve the sound equipment he produced for the film industry.

Over the course of his career, Jones received more than 60 patents. While the majority pertained to refrigeration technologies, others related to X-ray machines, engines and sound equipment. By far his most coveted invention was the portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food. Partnering with Numero, they founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company in the 1930’s. He later modified the truck refrigeration device so that food and blood supply could be dropped behind enemy lines for waiting troops in World War II. By 1949, U.S. Thermo Control was worth millions of dollars.

Jones was recognized for his achievements both during his lifetime and after his death. In 1944, he became the first African American elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. Jones died of lung cancer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 21, 1961. He was inducted into the Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame in 1977. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush awarded the National Medal of Technology posthumously to Numero and Jones, presenting the awards to their windows at a ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden. Jones was the first African American to receive the award.

Anytime you see a truck on the highway transporting refrigerated or frozen food, you’re seeing the work of Frederick “Mr. Freeze” Jones, one of the most prolific African American inventors ever.