Official Webby Honoree for Blog/Cultural
Official Webby Honoree for Education

Elijah McCoy

An expert mechanical engineer, he invented the “lubricating cup”, which revolutionized the railroad industry and increased the efficiency and travel times of trains. His invention even earned the nickname “The Real McCoy”.

Born 1844, Colchester, Ontario, Canada. McCoy’s parents were runaway slaves that escaped to Canada through the Underground Railroad. A few years his birth, the family moved back to the states, settling in Michigan. Expressing an interest in engineering at a young age, McCoy’s parents sent him abroad to Scotland at 15 for an apprenticeship; he returned with a certification in mechanical engineering.

Despite his qualifications, McCoy face racial discrimination and had difficulty finding employment with his skill-set  So, he took a manual labor position as fireman/oiler with the Michigan Central Railroad. He shoveled coal and was responsible for oiling the train. During his time at this job, McCoy would come up with quite the innovation Back then, a train had to stop every few miles so a person (an oiler) could manually oil/lubricate the axles, bearings, and engine parts. This was wildly inefficient and labor intensive as you could imagine; McCoy thought so too. In 1872, he patented an automatic lubricator that evenly distributed oil over the train’s parts; this allowed the train to run longer without stops for maintenance.

Now there’s debate about the origin of the nickname the “Real McCoy”, but the popularity of McCoy’s invention certainly made his origin one of the most famous. his lubricating cup was so popular among railroad companies that when other inventors started selling versions of his device, the companies would ask if it was the “Real McCoy”. 

McCoy received around 57 patents, primarily dealing with lubricating engines of trains and ships.

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Biography.com
Source: Black Inventor

Filed Under: Elijah McCoy history culture tech trains inventors black history technology m

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