Friday, October 24, 2014
Elijah McCoy- "The real McCoy"
Elijah J. McCoy was a Canadian-American inventor and engineer, who was notable for his 57 U.S. patents, most to do with lubrication of steam engines. McCoy was born free in Canada, to George and Mildred (Goins) McCoy, who were black. He returned as a five-year-old with his family to the United States in 1847, and became a US citizen. They were fugitive slaves who had escaped from Kentucky to Canada via helpers through the Underground Railroad. In 1847, the family returned to the US, settling in Ypsilanti, Michigan. At age 15, McCoy traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland for an apprenticeship and study. After some years, he was certified in Scotland as a mechanical engineer. After his return, he rejoined his family. In Michigan, McCoy could find work only as a fireman and oiler at the Michigan Central Railroad. In a home-based machine shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan McCoy also did more highly skilled work, such as developing improvements and inventions. He invented an automatic lubricator for oiling the steam engines of locomotives and ships, "Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines" (U.S. Patent 129,843). McCoy continued to refine his devices and design new ones; 50 of his patents dealt with lubricating systems. After the turn of the century, he attracted notice among his black contemporaries. Booker T. Washington in Story of the Negro (1909) recognized him as having produced more patents than any other black inventor up to that time. This creativity gave McCoy an honored status in the black community that has persisted to this day. The popular expression, "The real McCoy", was first published in Canada in 1881. This expression, typically used to mean the real thing, has been associated with Elijah McCoy's oil-drip cup invention.