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Celebrating Black History Month

February 9, 2021

Black Americans That Changed the Food Industry

We are almost halfway through February, which also happens to be Black History Month. As a minority owned business, we want to recognize that Black history is part of America’s history. Today we wanted to take a look back in history at notable Black Americans that changed the Food Industry. These five individuals have all made huge contributions to the way we prepare, preserve and eat food all over the country.

Portable Refrigeration Units

First up in our Black History Month feature, is Frederick McKinley Jones. Jones created the first portable refrigeration units in 1935. This made it possible to transport perishable items, such as food, for instance, over long distances. Patented in 1940, his design is still vital not only to the food industry but for other perishables such as medical supplies and blood packs.

Jones founded the U.S. Thermo Control Company in partnership with Joseph A. Numero. During WWII, his company helped to preserve food, medicine and blood, resulting in exponential growth for his company. In 1944, Frederick McKinley Jones became the first African American elected to the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers.

In 1991, President George H.W. Bush awarded the National Medal of Technology posthumously to Numero and Jones. At a ceremony held in the White House Rose Garden, the award was presented to their widows. Even though he did not live to receive it, Jones became the first African American to receive the award. Frederick McKinley Jones died of lung cancer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on February 21, 1961. The Minnesota Inventors Hall of Fame inducted Frederick McKinley Jones posthumously in 1977.

Potato Chips

Potato chips are one of the ultimate and iconic salty snacks. George Speck, more popularly known as George Crum, is said to be responsible for creating potato chips as we know them today. Because a customer complained that his French fries were too thick, Crum decided to slice potatoes super thin, creating the potato chip.

Potato chips were first known as “Saratoga chips” and served at the Moon’s Lake House restaurant where George worked when they were created. Later potato chips were served to every guest at his own restaurant in Malta, New York in the 1860s. Potato chips remained a local Malta, New York delicacy until the 1920s when a salesman and entrepreneur named Herman Lay began traveling throughout the south and introducing potato chips to different communities. Herman Lay then created his eponymous brand of Lay’s potato chips. Unfortunately at that point, the mass production and distribution of potato chips at a national scale, overtook Crum’s legacy.

Oil Stove and Advanced Non-Electric Refrigerator

We can thank John Standard for making it easier to keep food cold or hot. He patented an oil stove in 1889 with a compact design for buffet style meals on trains. As a result of Standard’s fundamental design, we can now enjoy food served hot in portable catering stoves at various events.

In addition, two years later in 1891, he improved the design of the refrigerator and created an advanced non-electric refrigerator with a manually filled ice chamber. Standard’s improvements laid the groundwork for eventual increased improvements to both stove and refrigerator designs, changing the way people around the world stored and cooked food.

Refrigerator Metal Cooling Coils

Another influential Black inventor featured for our Black History Month spotlight is Thomas Elkins. Elkins was a prolific inventor. He patented in 1879 a device that helped with the task of preserving perishable foods by way of refrigeration. That fridge in the kitchen wasn’t the refrigerator that we see today. In the late 1800s, the way to cool and preserve food was by means of placing items in a large container and surrounding them with large blocks of ice. Unfortunately, the ice generally melted very quickly and the food soon perished.

In 1879, Thomas Elkins created a device that used metal cooling coils enclosed in a container. The coils cooled the container to a temperature significantly lower than that inside of a room. That kept the perishable items cool and fresh for longer periods of time.

Elkins was quite the busy inventor. In 1870 he patented a dining table and quilting frame combined. Subsequently, in 1872, he obtained patents for improvements to the chamber commode, a predecessor to the modern toilet.

Agriculture Pioneer

Think of George Washington Carver and you think of peanuts. Best known for his work in promoting peanuts for crop rotation with cotton. Carver developed techniques to improve soils depleted by repeated plantings of cotton.

George Washington Carver urged systemic crop rotation, helping farmers to restore nitrogen to their soils. Sweet potatoes or legumes such as peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas help restore nitrogen to the soil and were also good for human consumption. Following the crop rotation practice resulted in improved cotton yields and gave farmers alternative cash crops.

Carver’s interest in botany made him an early environmentalists. The Royal Society of Arts in England made Carver a member in 1916. George Washington Carver was one of only a handful of Americans at that time to receive this honor.

Thanks for taking the time to celebrate Black History and learn more about Black Americans who helped change the food industry. Give us a shout if you think there is someone else we should recognize and celebrate this month.

As always, we are here at Forage Foods to help you Eat Healthy!

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