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OTSOG: Elijah McCoy

OTSOG: Elijah McCoy

Elijah McCoy was born to George and Emilia McCoy in Colchester, Ontario, Canada on May 2, 1844. The son of former slaves, he showed an interest in engineering at an early age, taking apart toys and other items, putting them back together, while studying them. His interest was recognized by his parents early, and he

Elijah McCoy was born to George and Emilia McCoy in Colchester, Ontario, Canada on May 2, 1844. The son of former slaves, he showed an interest in engineering at an early age, taking apart toys and other items, putting them back together, while studying them. His interest was recognized by his parents early, and he was sent to Edinburg, Scotland to study mechanical engineering. Upon finishing his studies he moved to the United States and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan just at the beginning of the Emancipation Proclamation. Despite his master skills, Mr. McCoy was unable to find a job, but he never lost his imagination which he later used to change history forever.

Mr. McCoy was forced to take a position that didn’t match his master skill set, but he had to earn a living, so he worked as a fireman/oilman on the Michigan Central Railroad. The fireman’s duty was to shovel coal into fires to help give off steam and make the train move, while the oilman was required to lubricate the axles and bearings of the train. The trick, however, was that the train had to stop in order to be oiled. Being the genius he that he was McCoy, used his imagination and intelligence to boost efficiency which eliminated the need to stop the train for lubrication. In 1872, the “lubricating cup” was invented and designed to continuously drip oil on the axles and bearings. McCoy received a patent for his invention and was met with great success, receiving requests from railroads all over the country to use his product. His skill was so trusted that others created their version of the cup, but the railroads told them they wanted the “Real McCoy”.

In 1868, McCoy married Ann Elizabeth Stewart who unfortunately died four years into their marriage. In 1873, McCoy married again to Mary Eleanor Delaney. They moved to Detroit, Michigan where they lived for the next 50 years. Continuing to earn success, McCoy had to make a tough decision; he had to sell some percentages of his patent to finance a workshop which allowed him to make improvements to the lubricating cup. His invention changed the way trains were operated and made the rides shorter and more efficient. The “lubricating cup” was altered to fit other machines such as naval vessels, oil-drilling rigs, mining products, and it could also be used in construction and factories across the country. In 1916, he invented the graphite lubricator which allowed super heater trains and devices to be oiled, and in 1920 McCoy started the “Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company”. He used his company to upgrade the graphite lubricator and other inventions. Using an idea he got from his wife, he created and patented the moveable ironing board, he also invented and patented the lawn sprinkler. Mr. McCoy died in 1929 but left a legacy that will never be forgotten or underestimated. Our American railroad systems, American people and travelers all over the world owe Mr. McCoy a debt of gratitude; he literally improved the way we travel by train and exist in our everyday lives. Mr. Elijah McCoy, we proudly stand on your shoulders.

 


J.A. Ward.

Click here to visit my On the Shoulders of Giants website.

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