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N.W. Minnesota museums highlight innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs

The next time the Schwan's truck delivers a box of frozen chicken breasts to your door or you see a refrigerated truck at a grocery store loading dock, you might want to offer a toast to Fred McKinley Jones.

The self-taught engineer who lived in Hallock, Minn., for nearly 20 years in the early 20th century, invented a portable refrigeration unit that ultimately replaced ice and salt as the food-preservation standard, paving the way for the frozen food trucking industry.

That invention led to the 1938 founding, along with Joe Numero, of a company now known as Thermo King.

Jones is just one of 17 "Innovators, Inventors and Entrepreneurs" featured in a traveling exhibit sponsored by the Minnesota's Historic Northwest, a partnership of museums in a 12-county region.

The exhibit is on display this month at the Kittson County Museum and History Center in Lake Bronson, Minn.

The exhibit features people who had big ideas, as well as companies that nurtured inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs, according to Tamara Edevold, director of the Clearwater County Historical Society who has been part of the Minnesota's Historic Northwest group since its inception more than a dozen years ago.

"Every couple of years, we try to find a project we can do together. We brainstorm and ask what stories we can tell of our region," she said. "We have more from our region other than fishing and hunting. We have all of these smart people who have impact all over the world."


Here is a sample of the featured people and companies:

• Mattracks, a Karlstad, Minn. (Kittson County) company that manufactures a track system that can be used in the place of tires. The company, founded by Glen Brazier on an idea from his 11-year-old son, Matt, now markets its products worldwide.

• Theodore Rowell Sr. and Jr., Rowell Laboratories, Baudette, Minn. The pharmaceutical company was founded in 1933 originally to produce liver oil nutritional supplements out of burbot, a freshwater cod, found in abundance in Lake of the Woods. Today, the firm is known as ANI Pharmaceuticals, publicly traded company.

• Albert O. Epse, a Crookston machine shop owner and founder of Crookston Manufacturing Co., who is credited with several agricultural inventions, including a gasoline-powered tractor in 1907 and a four-plow tractor in 1909.

• Coya Knutson, the first Minnesota woman elected to Congress, is credited with creating student loans. The teacher from Oklee, Minn. became politically active and served, as a member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, in Congress from 1954 to 1958. During that time, she served on the Agriculture Committee and championed the Title II Student Loan Bill.

"Even though we live we here, we didn't know about a lot of these things," Edevold said. "I didn't know that the man who invented refrigeration for trucks came from Hallock."

Fred Jones actually was born in Kentucky in 1893. He was orphaned and eventually arrived in Kittson County in 1912. While living in Hallock, he invented a portable X-ray machine, a soundtrack movie projector, a self-starting gas motor and an automatic ticket-taker, according to the exhibit panel. He also worked with the military to design cooling units for military field hospitals.

The exhibit project was financed with a $4,000 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society, as well as $1,000 from Minnesota's Historic Northwest.

More info: The Kittson County Museum, 332 E. Main St., Lake Bronson, Minn., is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. Call (218) 754-4100 or go to

Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.