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The enormous concept of transporting food and medical supplies over long distances without fear of spoiling took a while to turn into a viable reality. Consumers were limited to seasonal and local perishables up until the late 1800s using primitive methods like salt and ice to keep things cold. Innovative and hard-working pioneers eventually made progress advancing the methods of the refrigerated transportation we take for granted today.
The meatpacking industry was the first to successfully develop an ice-based trailer which directed cold air into the truck from an icebox attached to the roof. Warm air was ventilated through the floor creating a chilled environment for the meat. This worked relatively well during the winter months but fell far short when the higher temperatures of the warmer seasons would melt the ice. There was more work to be done.
Engineers in a variety of industries continued to redesign railroad cars and truck carriers for optimum cooling and temperature control. Improvements were made using fans and insulation and the commercial ice companies thrived. It was a hit or miss situation for truckers as the ice companies tried to keep. It wasn't until the late 1930s that a dramatic shift in refrigerated trucking came to be.
Frederick McKinley Jones patented over 60 inventions throughout his lifetime but is most remembered as the father of the automatic refrigeration system for trains and long haul trucks. The Minnesota-based engineer designed a portable air-cooling unit with a gasoline motor built-in. The technological breakthrough was able to handle the bumps and jolts of over-the-road hauling and eliminate the need for ice.
Jones' invention transformed the consumer marketplace and the food industry now allowing the transport of meat, frozen food, and fresh produce to reach all corners of the country. It was also a life-saver during World War II when it was adapted to airplanes so that much-needed supplies and plasma could be safely transported to wounded soldiers. Editor Tom Berg of Heavy Duty Trucking referred to Jones as the "King of Cool" and it's easy to see why.
Over 36 million loads of refrigerated and frozen items are shipped every year around the globe. The addition of compressors, evaporators, and condensers to Jones' initial design gave rise to the successful revolution of what became known as the reefer units. It is a celebrated abbreviated reference to the refrigerated trucks responsible for preserving our perishable goods for the long haul.
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