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Mainewhile: Black inventor of airplane car deserves plenty of props


Hello, February. Welcome!

February is a funny month. It is short and cold, and everyone starts yearning for spring even though it’s really still a good way off. Worse, we all have to suffer through Valentine’s Day smack dab in the middle of the month. Ugh.

On the upside, thanks to February also being the birth month of both President Abraham Lincoln and the amazing Frederick Douglass, February is Black History Month.

Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at [email protected]

Given the storm we all just experienced, now seems the perfect time to give props to Black inventor Frederick McKinley Jones. Why? Well, back in 1919, having settled in Minnesota after serving overseas, Jones, who transported doctors on their house calls, mounted skis to “the undercarriage of an old airplane body and attached an airplane propeller to a motor … whisking doctors around town at high speeds,” as reported by blackpast.org.

This is a man I wish I knew.

This creative solution is just one smidge of his amazingness, though. In response to one of those same doctors complaining about the wait time to get his patients to an X-ray machine, Jones invented a portable version that could be brought to the patient instead, arguably revolutionizing methods of medical treatment.

Jones revolutionized our entertainment experience by developing a method for converting silent movie projectors into projectors with sound, creating stabilizers to improve picture quality and inventing the automatic ticket dispenser for theaters.

Jones revolutionized the way we eat by creating the Thermo King, an automatic refrigeration system for trucks, later adapted to trains and ships. Without his device, grocery stores would have remained unable to offer perishable foods from far away. Before him, canned goods were the only solution to distance – and while I am grateful for canning, it is not the same as fresh fruits and veggies.

Jones’ invention allowed the entire nation to experience foods we never would have been able to otherwise. What’s more, his creation paved the way for the entire frozen food industry.

Not stopping there, Jones adapted his technology during World War II to refrigerate blood, allowing it to be stored safely for transfusions and saving an untold number of lives. A modified version of his technology is still in use today.

His brilliance came despite a childhood marked by trauma. Details of his early years differ, but all sources agree he was on his own from a very early age, either 7 or 9, partially raised by a local priest and utterly on his own by either 12 or 16. Despite this, his curiosity and sheer skill surfaced. Largely self-taught in mechanics, Jones became officially certified, and by 19 he was well known for winning races in cars he built himself.

When World War I arrived, Jones became a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He brought his inventiveness with him while stationed in France and, as a result, his camp had electricity, telephone and telegraph service.

This was a guy you wanted to have around.

Jones neglected to patent many of his inventions, including the portable X-ray machine, resulting in others making their fortunes off his creations. Nevertheless, when he died in 1961, Jones had more than 60 patents to his name. The scope of his inventions earned him the National Medal of Technology posthumously.

A pioneer in many fields, Jones enriched all our lives in ways I certainly had not understood before stumbling on his story. I am so thankful he was who he was, and I wish like heck I could have gone for a ride through town with him in his airplane car. That would have been amazing.



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