Industry News

Black Foodservice History: Joseph Lee and Frederick McKinley Jones

Throughout Black History Month, IFDA will be honoring the rich legacy of Black Americans in our nation’s culinary history. Today we shine a light on two Black inventors who made the modern foodservice industry possible: Joseph Lee and Frederick McKinley Jones.
Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Joseph Lee was a successful Boston-area restaurateur who combined his talents for baking, blacksmithing, and hospitality to forever change how professional kitchens mass-produce bread.
His first major invention was an automated bread-kneading machine that received a patent in 1894. Lee’s innovation saved time and labor for kitchen staff, produced uniform quality under more hygienic conditions, and increased the amount of bread that could be produced from each barrel of flour.
The downside to this efficiency? Lee’s kitchens were suddenly full of excess bread that had to be discarded once stale. His solution, patented in 1895, was a machine that ground old bread into crumbs that could be used to prepare additional food products, such as fried and battered meals.
Lee’s technology would soon be found in hotels and restaurants across the country. His monumental impact on the food preparation industry was recognized when he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2019. Read more about his life story.
The King of Thermo
A self-taught engineer who honed his skills in Ohio automobile shops, Minnesota railroads, and the battlefields of World War One, Frederick McKinley Jones’ legacy can be seen every day on trucks around the world: the Thermo Control Model C refrigeration unit.
His mobile refrigeration technology revolutionized the distribution of food and other perishables. No longer would transported goods need to be cooled by salt and ice; now, even on bumpy roads, perishable items could be safely delivered by truck.  
Jones’ invention played a key role in World War Two, enabling life-saving materials to get to soldiers across battle-scarred landscapes. After the war, his co-founded firm U.S. Thermo Control Company (now known as Thermo King Corporation) changed the supply chain forever when it began selling the units to commercial customers.  
Jones received many honors throughout the course of his life, including 61 patents and the National Medal of Technology. He was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007. Read more about his life story.