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Elijah J. McCoy was born on this date in 1843. He was a Black inventor.
Born in Colchester, Canada, Elijah McCoy was one of 12 children of a family of runaway slaves who had used the Underground Railroad to escape from Kentucky. When he was 15, McCoy's parents sent him to study mechanical engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland, because that training was impossible for Blacks to get in the United States. After finishing his schooling, McCoy returned to the United States with the hope of obtaining an engineering job. He was forced to accept work as a locomotive fireman with the Michigan Central Railroad, shoveling coal into the engine and applying oil in the moving parts of the machine.
McCoy found the work did not challenge him and sought other more productive forms of work. It had long been considered a problem that railroad engines were unable to lubricate themselves. In his free time, McCoy began to consider solutions to this problem, and after two years, he developed the "lubricating cup" for steam engines. The cup allowed for the continuous flow of oil on the gears, doing away with the necessity of shutting down the machine. McCoy received a patent for his lubricating device in 1872. The lubricating cup was essential to industries throughout the world, and those in possession of the valuable cup were said to have "the Real McCoy."
He also obtained patents for an automatic sprinkler and an ironing table, eventually acquiring 58 patents in his lifetime. Elijah McCoy, whose creative work may have been the beginning of the phrase the "Real McCoy" died on October 10, 1929.
Created Equal The Lives and Ideas of Black American Innovators
By James Michael Brodie
Copyright 1993, by Bill Adler Books, Inc.
William Morrow and Co. Inc., New York