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Northwest Minnesota museums highlight innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs

The Beltrami County display as part of the “Innovators, Inventors and Entrepreneurs” exhibit showcases Andy Wells and Wells Technology. The exhibit will come to Bemidji in February and March.

Kevin Bonham

Forum News Service

LAKE BRONSON — 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, 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 and will come to the Beltrami County History Center in February and March.

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:

Andy Wells, founder of Wells Technology in Bemidji (Beltrami County), a precision metal manufacturer. A member of the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Wells has grown the company into a leader in the industry. He also has been widely recognized as a leader in minority-owned businesses.

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 half-eel, half-fish found in abundance in Lake of the Woods. Today, the firm is known as ANI Pharmaceuticals, a publicly traded company.

Albert O. Epse, a Crookston, Minn., 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.”

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.

For more information about the project, call (218) 754-4100 or go to

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