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Fascinating facts about Elijah McCoy inventor
of a lubrication system
in 1872.
Elijah McCoy
Inventor: Elijah McCoy
Portrait of Elijah McCoy derived from public domain
Criteria: First practical. Entrepreneur.
Birth: May 2, 1843 or 1844 in Colchester, Ontario, Canada
Death: October 10, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan
Nationality: Canadian
Elijah McCoy was the inventor of a device that allowed machines to be lubricated while they were still in operation. Machinery buyers insisted on McCoy lubrication systems when buying new machines and would take nothing less than what became known as the real McCoy. The inventor's automatic oiling devices became so universal that no heavy-duty machinery was considered adequate without it, and the expression became part of America culture (although some argue it has other origins)

Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, in 1843 to George and Mildred McCoy. His parents were escaped slaves, who had fled from Kentucky and made it to Canada, riding the Underground Railroad.  When McCoy was a child, his family returned across the border, settling near Ypsilanti, Michigan, where his father worked in the logging industry. For a time he attended grammar school. His parents saved enough money to send their fifteen-year old son to Edinburgh, Scotland, to serve an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering. He returned to the U.S. a full-fledged engineer, yet could not get work in his field of expertise. He settled for a job as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. He was also charged with oiling the trains' moving parts. He began working on self-lubrication devices and in 1872 he acquired his first patent, # 129,843 (US) dated July 23, 1872 for Improvement in Lubrication for Steam-Engines.


Black Inventors, A Class Act  from The Great Idea Finder
Transportation History   from The Great Idea Finder

The Real Mccoy
by Wendy Towle, Wil Clay  / Paperback: 32 pages / Scholastic Paperbacks (1995)
A biography of the Canadian-born black American who studied engineering in Scotland and patented over fifty inventions despite the obstacles he faced because of his race. This African-American inventor produced over fifty inventions and was best known for an automatic oil cup he developed in 1872.
Black Inventors
by Nathan Aaseng / Hardcover: 144 pages / Facts on File, Inc.(August 1997)
Ten short, well-written biographies tell the stories of black inventors whose contributions have often
been overlooked or unrecognized.
Great Negroes Past and Present
by Russell L. Adams / Paperback: 212 pages / African American Images; 3rd edition (Dec. 1976)
One hundred and seventyfive historically organized biographies of famous African Americans in
areas such as education, science, music, and more.
Black Pioneers of Science and Invention
by Louis Haber / Paperback: 264 pages / Odyssey Classics, Reprint edition (January 1992)
A readable, perceptive account of the lives of fourteen gifted black Americans who have played important roles in this country's scientific and industrial progress.
Five Notable Inventors (Great Black Heroes)
by Wade Hudson, Ron Garnett (Illustrator) / Paperback:/ Cartwheel Books; ; (April 1995)
Follows five inventors: Elijah "the real" McCoy, machinery oiling equipment; Madame C.J. Walker, hair products for black women; Granville Woods, electrical signal system for trains; Garrett Morgan, gas masks and traffic signals; and Jan Matzeliger, shoe machinery.

Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Elijah McCoy featured January, 1996 for his invention of the Automatic Oil Cup.
Black Inventior Elijah McCoy
Although the name Elijah McCoy may be unknown to most people, the enormity of his ingenuity and the quality of his inventions have created a level of distinction which bears his name.
National Inventors Hall of Fame
The National Inventors Hall of Fame™ honors the women and men responsible for the great technological advances that make human, social and economic progress possible..
Another Opinion - The not-so-real McCoy
In spite of what popular pseudohistory has to say, the practice of providing a self-acting, continuous feed of lubricant to moving machine parts began long before Elijah McCoy came along.
African - Canadian People
His work as an inventor came during a time that was very difficult for "African - Canadian people"; yet, through hard work, he succeeded and made a great contribution.
Elijah McCoy: Inventor
McCoy's first invention (1872) was a revolutionary way of lubricating steam engines without having to shut them down..
Black Inventors in America
Though blacks contributed to the technological development there was little public recognition of their achievements. They seem not to have fully enjoyed the benefits of their inventions, whether due to untimely death or to lack of capital.
Elijah McCoy Brief Biography
He opened the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Co (1920) and patented an improved airbrake lubricator, one of the some 50 patents he obtained during his lifetime.


  • Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines, US patent 129,843, patented July 23, 1872
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised October 16, 2006.

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