This Day in Black History: May 2, 1844

Canadian-American inventor Elijah McCoy was born.

Posted: 05/02/2013 07:00 AM EDT
Elijah McCoy

(Photo: Public Domain)

On May 2, 1843, Canadian-American inventor Elijah McCoy was born in Ontario, Canada.
McCoy was born to former slaves who fled the U.S. via the underground railroad. When McCoy was just three years old, the family moved back to the U.S. and settled in Detroit, Michigan.

At age 15, McCoy traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to complete an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering. Upon return to the U.S., McCoy was unable to find work as a mechanical engineer despite his training and certification. In lieu of his career ambitions, McCoy accepted a job as a fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad. The job required McCoy to fuel steam engines and lubricate the engine's moving parts as well as the train's axles and bearings.

Because of his advanced training, McCoy was able to revolutionize the steam engine by creating a lubricator that used steam pressure to pump oil wherever it was needed; thus eliminating the need to stop trains for lubrication. McCoy was issued his first patent for this device on July 12, 1872. McCoy's lubricator was so effective that customers seeking the device began asking for "the real McCoy," so that they would recieve his specific invention.

McCoy patented nearly 60 devices over the span of his lifetime, including designs for an ironing board and lawn sprinkler.

He died on Oct. 10, 1929.

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