Great Inventor: Elijah, The Real McCoy

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His contributions and inventions became so popular that people inspecting new equipment would ask if the device contained “the real McCoy.”

[The Archives: Black History Month]


In American history, there have been many Black Inventors, and Elijah McCoy is one of those great ones. He alone may have revolutionized America with some of his inventions. A lot of people may have not heard of Elijah McCoy, but he lived a remarkable life.

In fact, his ingenuity and creativity can in some ways speak for itself. McCoy was born on May 2, 1844, in the city of Ontario, Canada. His parents were George and Emilia McCoy. His father, George, was a former slave that gained his freedom through the Underground Railroad. His father joined the Canadian Army, and fought in the Rebel War.  His mother was also a former slave who gained her freedom through the Underground Railroad. As a child, Elijah really enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together.

He attended school in Edinburgh, Scotland, where he studied mechanical engineering. After completing school, he moved to the United States, and lived in Michigan. While residing in Michigan, he worked as an engineer on locomotives. This is where he received a patent for inventing the automatic oiling machine. He also invented the portable ironing board, rubber shoe heels, the lawn sprinkler, and a host of other gadgets and devices.

Many fellow-inventors tried to sell imitations of the devices and gadgets that Elijah created, but companies wanted the real thing, and this coined the phrase “the real McCoy.” His contributions and inventions became so popular that people inspecting new equipment would ask if the device contained “the real McCoy.”  Elijah died October 10, 1929, after spending time in Eloise Infirmary, which was a local hospital in Eloise, Michigan, but his inventions will live forever.



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