Elijah McCoy (1843-1929)

Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario in 1843. His parents were escaped slaves who made it to Canada from Kentucky via the Underground Railroad.

The family relocated to the U.S. and settled near Ypsilanti, Michigan. Young Elijah McCoy developed a penchant for mechanical engineering and, unable to acquire the necessary training in the U.S., he left for Scotland to work as an apprentice in mechanical engineering. Returning to the U.S. as a certified engineer, he was unable to get a job in his field and had to settle for a menial job as a fireman on the Michigan Central Railroad.

Part of the fireman's duties involved oiling the train's many parts at frequent intervals, with the train having to stop for this operation. McCoy sought to develop a solution to this problem. In 1872, he applied for a patent for his "lubricating cup", which "provides for the continuous flow of oil on gears and other moving parts of a machine in order to keep it lubricated properly and continuously and thereby do away with the necessity to shut down the machinery periodically".

Concerned initially with the lubrication of stationary engines, McCoy continued with his ultimate goal to lubricate the machines while they were in operation. Eventually, no heavy duty machinery was without his automatic oiling devices and the term the "real McCoy" became linked with the pioneering achievement of Elijah McCoy.


African-American Inventors: Lonnie Johnson, Frederick McKinley Jones, Marjorie Stewart Joyner, Elijah McCoy, Garrett Augustus Morgan, Fred M. B. Amram. Capstone Press, 1998.
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