Inventors are inspirational. Elijah McCoy was a Canadian and African-American inventor and engineer. You may be familiar with the phrase “The real McCoy”. This phrase came from multiple inventors creating lubrication devices for steam engines around the same time period. Elijah McCoy’s lubrication cup for steam engines and locomotives became the superior product, the real thing, or “The real McCoy”.
Elijah J. McCoy was born on May 2, 1844 in Colchester, Ontario. His parents were slaves in Kentucky who escaped via the Underground Railroad. They all lived in Canada before moving back to the United States to Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1847. Elijah had eleven brothers and sisters. When Elijah was 15 he went to Edinburgh, Scotland. He was apprenticed and studied to become a mechanical engineer. After being certified in Scotland he returned to the United States. He couldn’t get work in the US as an engineer, so he became a fireman and oiler at the Michigan Central Railroad. At the time trains had to be stopped to oil the engine. McCoy invented an automatic lubricator at his home-based machine shop. It was patented in 1872. He continued inventing and 50 of his patents were for lubricating systems.
Elijah McCoy became respected in his community. He continued to invent and received 57 total patents during his life. He, also, invented a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. He sold his patent rights to investors and employers until near the end of his career. In 1920, McCoy Manufacturing Company was formed and could then produced lubricators and other products with the McCoy name.
McCoy married his first wife, Ann Elizabeth Stewart, in 1868. He became a widow four years later. In 1873, he married Mary Eleanor Delaney. They moved to Detroit. His wife helped found the Phillis Wheatley Home for Aged Colored Men in 1898. In the early 1920s Elijah and Mary were in a car accident. Mary died and Elijah suffered injuries he didn’t completely heal from. He later died at the Eloise Infirmary on October 10, 1929.
The Real McCoy became a play, as well as, an expression used in advertising and popular culture. Historical markers and other celebrations of McCoy’s work and life exist. In 2001, Elijah J. McCoy was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Be inspired! Have a bright day!