Elijah McCoy

Infobox Person
name = Elijah McCoy

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caption = Elijah J. McCoy
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birth_date = May 2, 1844
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death_date = October 10, 1929
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Elijah J. McCoy (May 2, 1843 [Sources give his birthdate as May 2, 1843; May 2, 1844; or less commonly March 27, 1843.] – October 10, 1929) was an Afro-Canadian inventor and engineer and is known for his many US patents.

After studying engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland, and returning home to Canada, he found work as a fireman and oiler at the Michigan Central Railroad. In a home-based machine shop in Ypsilanti, McCoy invented an automatic lubricator for oiling the steam engines of locomotives and boats. For this he obtained his first patent, "Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines" (US patent|129843) on July 23, 1872. 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, allowing 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, and after the turn of the century attracted notice among his African-American 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 output ultimately propelled McCoy to a heroic status in the African American community which has persisted to this day. He continued to invent until late in life, obtaining as many as 57 patents mostly related to lubrication, but also including 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, when he formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. By that time there were several substantial lubricator manufacturers in multiple countries.

McCoy married Ann Elizabeth Stewart in 1868; she died four years later. He remarried the next year to Mary Eleanor Delaney and moved to Detroit. Mary McCoy was one of the founders of the Phillis Wheatley Home for Aged Colored Ladies in 1898. [ [http://info.detnews.com/redesign/history/story/historytemplate.cfm?id=70 Baulch, Vivian M., How Detroit got its first black hospital, 11/26/1995,] "The Detroit News".]

Elijah McCoy died in Detroit in 1929 at the age of 86, still suffering from injuries from a car accident seven years earlier that killed his second wife. McCoy had been a resident of the Eloise Hospital (now in Westland, Michigan), a sanitarium in Westland Michigan, also known as the Michigan State Asylum before his death, suffering from dementia. [ [http://talesofeloise.com/mccoy.html Elijah McCoy - Eloise Patient ] ] Elijah McCoy is buried at Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery in Warren, Michigan, and this fact is noted on a Michigan Historical Marker. [ [http://www.michmarkers.com/Frameset.htm Michigan Historical markers] ]

In 1975, Detroit celebrated Elijah McCoy Day, as officials placed a historic marker at the site of his home. The city also named a street for him. [ [http://detroit1701.psc.isr.umich.edu/ElijahMcCoy.htm Elijah McCoy home informational site.] ]

There is no consensus regarding the importance of McCoy's contribution to the field of lubrication. At one extreme, he is credited in some biographical sketches with revolutionizing the railroad or machine industries with his devices. At the same time, he is scarcely mentioned in the old lubrication literature; for example, his name is absent in E. L. Ahrons' "Lubrication of Locomotives" (1922) which does refer to several other early pioneers and companies of the field.

According to some sources, the saying "the real McCoy", meaning "the real thing", derives from Elijah's invention, however this is disputed. The legend is that railroad engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would enquire if a locomotive was fitted with "the real McCoy". This account is disputed as there are other earlier origins to the phrase. [ [http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-mcc1.htm Michael Quinion, World Wide Words, 1996-2008] ] Other lubricators were already in widespread use and lubricators with his name were not produced until the 1920's.

In 2006, Canadian playwright Andrew Moodie wrote a play called "The Real McCoy" which chronicles the life of Elijah, his inventions and his personal tragedies until his death.

He is commemorated in two other Michigan historical markers. One is at his home, 5720 Lincoln Avenue, Detroit, Michigan at the intersection of Elijah McCoy Drive. Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: P25170. Listed: November 14, 1974in front of the Elijah McCoy Homes. The other is at his first workshop, in Ypsilanti, Michigan Registered Site S0642 which was erected in 1994. [ [http://www.michmarkers.com/Frameset.htm Michigan Historical markers.] ]


Further reading

*Haber, Louis. "Black Pioneers of Science and Invention." {Louis Haber: Books, 2007.) ISBN 0152085661; ISBN 978-0152085667.
*Haskins, James. "Outward Dreams: Black Inventors and Their Inventions". (Walker, 1991.) ISBN 9780802769930.
*Hayden, Robert C. "Nine Black American Inventors". (21st Century, 1997.) 171 pages ISBN 0805021337; ISBN 978-0805021332.
*Klein, Aaron E. "The Hidden Contributors: Black Scientists and Inventors in America". (DoubleDay, October 1971) ISBN 0385006411, ISBN 978-0385006415.
*Moodie, Andrew, "The Real McCoy". ISBN 9780887549021
*Sullivan, Otha and Haskins, James, "Black Stars: African American Inventors". (Jossey-Bass. April 21 1998) ISBN 0471148040, ISBN 978-0471148043.
*Towle, Wendy. "The Real McCoy: The Life of an African American Inventor". (Scholastic, 1993.) ISBN 0-590-46134-6.

External links

* [http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=6807620 Find a Grave, Elijah McCoy.]
* " [http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-mcc1.htm World Wide Words's] discussion of "the real McCoy"."
* " [http://www33.brinkster.com/iiiii/mccoy/ The not-so-real McCoy] - disputes "Real McCoy" story".
* " [http://www.textbookleague.org/102mcd.htm Did Somebody Say McTrash?] "
* " [http://www.textbookleague.org/35fake.htm The Fake McCoy.] "
* " [http://www.r-go.ca/elijah_mccoy_picture.htm Elijah McCoy pictures at Argot language center.] "

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