Black Inventors and Innovators - Elijah McCoy


Elijah McCoy was born May 2, 1844 in Colchester, Ontario, Canada and died October 10, 1929 in DetroitMichigan. McCoy’s parents were former slaves who escaped using the Underground Railroad and went to Canada where they raised their family on a huge homestead. 

At a very young age McCoy would take things apart and put them back together again just to see how they worked. McCoy’s parents saw his mechanical interest and saved money to send him to Scotland to study mechanical engineering. When McCoy returned to the United States after finishing his degree he was unable to find work as an engineer and instead became a fireman/oilman for the railroad. McCoy’s jobs had him shoveling coal onto fires to produce the steam that powered the train and oiling the train to make sure it was well lubricated.  Making sure that the train was lubricated took a great time and the train had to make many stops.

McCoy became tired of having to stop the train and walk alongside the train to lubricate the various parts of the train.  This led to McCoy finding a way to improve the efficiency of this tedious task.  McCoy created a lubricating cup that would automatically drip oil when and where it was needed.  After receiving the patent railroad companies across the country order the lubricating cup.  There were other inventors who tried to sell their similar devices but most of the railroad companies wanted the authentic product asking for the Real McCoy. 

There is a huge discrepancy as to how the saying the “Real McCoy” was derived and some believe that the saying was developed referring to Elijah McCoy while others have other speculations as to how the saying came about.

McCoy’s invention would go through many modifications and improvements. The lubricating cup would make it so that trains would not have to be shut down periodically and the lubricating cup was modified so that it could be used on different types of machinery.

McCoy would later create the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company and under this new company he would develop and patent the ironing board and the lawn sprinkler.

Each one of McCoy’s inventions came out of necessity. The lubricating cup was created so that trains did not have to stop to be lubricated. The ironing board was created because his wife desired an easier way to iron.  The lawn sprinkler was invented because McCoy was tired of watering his lawn and wanted to automate this task. 

Elijah McCoy was truly the Real McCoy and his inventions were revolutionary in that they made the specific tasks more effective and efficient; making life easier.  

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Comments 3 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning this hub.

Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 6 years ago from Wales

Hi Triplet mom,

I am really hooked on these black inventors now. a great little series and thanks for sharing.

Awesome/useful here.

Take care


Triplet Mom profile image

Triplet Mom 6 years ago from West Coast Author

Thank you Hello Hello and Eiddwen - This has been an incredible journey for me and I am glad that I am doing this. I have learned so much!

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