Elijah McCoy #OnThisDay

On 23rd July 1872 African Canadian American inventor Elijah McCoy was granted a patent for lubricators for steam-engines.

portrait photograph of Elijah McCoy
Elijah McCoy, Image Rights Held by: Ypsilanti Historical Society, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Elijah_McCoy.jpg

Elijah McCoy is likely to be where the phrase ‘the real McCoy’ originates from. This African/Canadian/American inventor was born in Canada to parents who had escaped there from slavery in the USA.

At age 15 he was sent to Scotland to take up an apprenticeship where he went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

Despite his education and skills, when he returned to the States he could only find work as a fireman and oilman for the Michigan railway due to racial prejudice.

He invented a lubricating device that distributed oil evenly and automatically over the train engine’s moving parts, removing the need for trains to stop for maintenance.

McCoy’s lubrication device was a huge success. It is said that when railroad engineers requested the device, they would ask for it by name to avoid being sold an inferior imitation. It is said that requests for “the real McCoy” became frequent, and that the phrase was later expanded to describe anything as the genuine article. Despite the racial prejudice he faced, McCoy’s achievements were recognised in his lifetime, however his name did not appear on the majority of the products that he devised. Instead, his legacy lives on in a phrase. University of Edinburgh

He invented many machines and improvements to others, not just of steam engines.

Elijah McCoy (1844 – 1929)

1 reply »

Leave a Reply