McCoy, Elijah

McCoy, Elijah
b. 1843 Colchester, Ontario, Canada
d. 1929 Detroit, Michigan (?), USA
African-American inventor of steam-engine lubricators.
McCoy was born into a community of escaped African-American slaves. As a youth he went to Scotland and served an apprenticeship in Edinburgh in mechanical engineering. He returned to North America and ended up in Ypsilanti, Michigan, seeking employment at the headquarters of the Michigan Central Railroad Company. In spite of his training, the only job McCoy could obtain was that of locomotive fireman. Still, that enabled him to study at close quarters the problem of lubricating adequately the moving parts of a steam locomotive. Inefficient lubrication led to overheating, delays and even damage. In 1872 McCoy patented the first of his lubricating devices, applicable particularly to stationary engines. He assigned his patent rights to W. and S.C.Hamlin of Ypsilanti, from which he derived enough financial resources to develop his invention. A year later he patented an improved hydrostatic lubricator, which could be used for both stationary and locomotive engines, and went on to make further improvements. McCoy's lubricators were widely taken up by other railroads and his employers promoted him from the footplate to the task of giving instruction in the use of his lubricating equipment. Many others had been attempting to achieve the same result and many rival products were on the market, but none was superior to McCoy's, which came to be known as "the Real McCoy", a term that has since acquired a wider application than to engine lubricators. McCoy moved to Detroit, Michigan, as a patent consultant in the railroad business. Altogether, he took out over fifty patents for various inventions, so that he became one of the most prolific of nineteenth-century black inventors, whose activities had been so greatly stimulated by the freedoms they acquired after the American Civil War. His more valuable patents were assigned to investors, who formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. McCoy himself, however, was not a major shareholder, so he seems not to have derived the benefit that was due to him.
Further Reading
P.P.James, 1989, The Real McCoy: African-American Invention and Innovation 1619– 1930, Washington: Smithsonian Institution, pp. 73–5.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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