|Born||Elijah J. McCoy
May 2, 1844.
Colchester, Ontario, Canada
|Died||October 10, 1929
Detroit, Michigan, United States
|Resting place||Detroit Memorial Park East, Warren, Macomb County, Michigan, USA|
|Occupation||Engineer, inventor, initially employed as a railroad fireman and oiler|
|Known for||Inventions, particularly his Mechanical Lubricator|
|Spouse(s)||Ann Elizabeth Stewart; Mary Eleanor Delaney|
Elijah J. McCoy (May 2, 1844 – October 10, 1929) was a black Canadian-American inventor and engineer, who was notable for his 57 U.S. patents, most to do with lubrication of steam engines. Born free in Canada, he returned as a five-year-old child with his family to the United States in 1847, where he lived for the rest of his life and became a US citizen.
Early life and education
Elijah J. McCoy was born free in 1844 in Colchester, Ontario, Canada to George and Mildred (Goins) McCoy, who were black. 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. He had eleven siblings.
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).
Similar automatic oilers had been patented previously; one is the displacement lubricator, which had already attained widespread use and whose technological descendants continued to be widely used into the 20th century. Lubricators were a boon for railroads, as they enabled trains to run faster and more profitably with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance.
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. He continued to invent until late in life, obtaining as many as 57 patents. Most of these were related to lubrication, but others also included a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. Lacking the capital with which to manufacture his lubricators in large numbers, he usually assigned his patent rights to his employers or sold them to investors. Lubricators with the McCoy name were not manufactured until 1920, near the end of his career. He formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company to produce his works.
Historians have not agreed on the importance of McCoy's contribution to the field of lubrication. He is credited in some biographical sketches with revolutionizing the railroad or machine industries with his devices. Early twentieth-century lubrication literature barely mentions him; for example, his name is absent from E. L. Ahrons' Lubrication of Locomotives (1922), which does identify several other early pioneers and companies of the field.
Regarding the phrase "The real McCoy"
The popular expression "The real McCoy," was first known to be published in Canada in 1881, however the linguistically similar "The Real McKay" can be traced to Scottish advertising in 1856. In James S. Bond's The Rise and Fall of the "Union club": or, Boy life in Canada, a character says, "By jingo! yes; so it will be. It's the 'real McCoy,' as Jim Hicks says. Nobody but a devil can find us there."
This expression, typically used to mean the real thing, has been associated with Elijah McCoy's oil-drip cup invention. One theory is that railroad engineers' looking to avoid inferior copies would request it by name, and inquire if a locomotive was fitted with "the real McCoy system". This possible origin is mentioned as a legend in Elijah McCoy's biography at the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
The original publication of this claim can be traced to the December 1966 issue of Ebony, in an advertisement for Old Taylor publishes the claim, ending in this tag line: "But the most famous legacy McCoy left his country was his name." The claim was repeated in a 1985 pamphlet printed by the Empak Publishing Company, which did not explain the origin of the expression. The attribution has been disputed, and other origin stories exist for the phrase.
Marriage and family
McCoy married Ann Elizabeth Stewart in 1868; she died four years later.
He married for the second time in 1873, to Mary Eleanor Delaney. They moved to Detroit when he found work there. Mary McCoy (b. - d. 1922) was one of the founders of the Phillis Wheatley Home for Aged Colored Men in 1898.
Elijah McCoy died in the Eloise Infirmary (Poorhouse) in Nankin Township now Westland, Michigan October 10, 1929 at the age of 86. He had continued to suffer from injuries from a car accident seven years earlier in which his wife Mary died. He was buried at Detroit Memorial Park East in Warren, Michigan.
In popular culture
- 1966, an ad for Old Taylor bourbon used a photo of Elijah McCoy and the expression "the real McCoy", ending in this tag line: "But the most famous legacy McCoy left his country was his name."
- 2006, the Canadian playwright Andrew Moodie wrote a play called The Real McCoy, which portrays McCoy's life, the challenges he faced as an African American, and the development of his inventions. It was first produced in Toronto in 2006. It has also been produced in the United States, as in Saint Louis, Missouri in 2011, where it was performed by the Black Rep Theatre.
- In the book Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman which is set in a fictional racial dystopia where the role of black and white people in society has been reversed, he is mentioned among a list of black scientists, inventors and pioneers when the characters are in a history class. Blackman includes a note at the end of the book about how men mentioned are real but she never learned about them in school. Blackman uses the list to highlight how blacks might be excluded from the history books in favour of White pioneers.
- 1974, the state of Michigan put an historical marker (P25170) at the McCoys' former home at 5720 Lincoln Avenue and at his gravesite.
- 1975, Detroit celebrated Elijah McCoy Day, and officials placed a historic marker at the site of his home. The city also named a nearby street for him.
- 1994, Michigan installed a historical marker (S0642) at his first workshop in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
- 2001, McCoy was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio.
- Senator Debbie Stabenow offered an amendment to the Patent Reform Act of 2011 to name the first satellite office of the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, which opened in Detroit, Michigan, on July 13, 2012, as the "Elijah J. McCoy United States Patent and Trademark Office".
- Haber, Louis (2007). Black Pioneers of Science and Invention. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich/Louis Haber Books. ISBN 0-15-208566-1. ISBN 978-0-15-208566-7.
- Haskins, James (1991). Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and Their Inventions. New York: Walker. ISBN 978-0-8027-6993-0.
- Hayden, Robert C. (1997). Nine Black American Inventors. 21st Century. p. 171. ISBN 0-8050-2133-7. ISBN 978-0-8050-2133-2
- Klein, Aaron E. (October 1971). The Hidden Contributors: Black Scientists and Inventors in America. Doubleday. ISBN 0-385-00641-1. ISBN 978-0-385-00641-5
- Moodie, Andrew (2006). The real McCoy. Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press. ISBN 978-0-88754-902-1.
- Sullivan, Otha; Haskins, James (April 21, 1998). Black Stars: African American Inventors. Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-471-14804-0. ISBN 978-0-471-14804-3
- Towle, Wendy; Wil, Clay (Illustrator) (1993). "The Real McCoy: The Life of an African American Inventor". A Blue Ribbon Book (Scholastic). ISBN 0-590-46134-6.
- "Elijah McCoy Picture". Argot Language Center.
- Sources give his birthdate as May 2, 1843; May 2, 1844; or less commonly March 27, 1843.
- "The not-so-real McCoy". Brinkster. Retrieved February 3, 2011. disputes "Real McCoy" story
- Bond, James S. The rise and fall of the "Union club": or, Boy life in Canada. Yorkville, Ontario. p. 1
- "Elijah McCoy, Inventor of the Week". Lemelson-MIT Program. May 1996. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
- Quinion, Michael. "The Real McCoy". World Wide Words.
- Casselman, William Gordon (2006). "The Real McCoy". Bill Casselman’s Canadian Word of the Day. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
- "Elijah McCoy, inventor profile". National Inventors Hall of Fame.
- Ebony, December 1966. p. 157.
- Bennetta, William J. "Did Somebody Say McTrash?". The Textbook League.
- Baulch, Vivian M. (1995-11-26). "How Detroit got its first black hospital". The Detroit News.[dead link]
- "Elijah McCoy". Find a Grave.
- Ebony, December 1966. p. 157
- "Elijah McCoy". MichMarkers.com - The Michigan Historical Marker Web Site.
- "Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery". MichMarkers.com - The Michigan Historical Marker Web Site.
- "Elijah McCoy Home Informational Site". Detroit - The History and Future of the Motor City. University of Michigan.
- "Patent Reform Act of 2011 Amendment" (pdf). Congressional Record 112th Congress (2011-2012). Retrieved March 5, 2011.
- "USPTO to Open First Ever Satellite Office in Detroit" (pdf) (Press release). U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. December 16, 2010. Retrieved July 14, 2012.
- Anders, Melissa (July 13, 2012). "Detroit beats Silicon Valley in opening first-ever patent office outside Washington, D.C.". MLive.com. Retrieved July 13, 2012.
- Markowitz, Eric (March 1, 2012). "What Does a Patent Office Mean For Detroit?". Inc.com. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
- Associated Press (July 11, 2012). "Patent office prepares to open Detroit location". The Detroit News (Detroit, Michigan). Retrieved July 11, 2012.
- Elijah McCoy photos, Argot language center
- Elijah McCoy memorial, at Find a Grave
- "Elijah McCoy", National Inventors Hall of Fame