Celebrating Black History Month: Elijah McCoy
Becoming a successful inventor requires intelligence, dedication and passion. Most importantly, it requires you to never give up. Elijah McCoy, notable inventor and engineer, devoted his life to improving the railway's process for lubricating trains, and despite challenges along the way, he obtained nearly 60 patents in his lifetime. Today, McCoy is best known for developing an automatic lubricator that helped trains run faster and more efficiently. All of these things make him the perfect person to celebrate during Black History Month.
Celebrating Groundbreaking Work During Black History Month
Elijah McCoy's parents were fugitive slaves who escaped Kentucky via the Underground Railroad. They ended up in Ontario, Canada, where McCoy was born a free man in 1844. The family later returned to United States and settled down in Michigan, while McCoy was still young.
Growing up, McCoy showed great interest in mechanics. To encourage his passions, McCoy's parents sent him abroad to Scotland, where he completed an apprenticeship and became certified in mechanical engineering. He returned to Michigan qualified for engineering jobs, but could not find any work. Rather than feeling defeated, McCoy worked as a fireman and oilman for the Michigan Central Railroad, which involved shoveling coal and lubricating trains.
When McCoy first started his position, trains had to be stopped regularly in order to be lubricated. McCoy saw this as a problem and thanks to the training he received during his teen years, was able to develop a lubricating cup that automated the process. The cup was designed to distribute oil to engine parts when needed, while the train was still moving to eliminate the frequent stops and save time and money.
McCoy received a patent for this invention, and he continued to refine his designs over time. By the end of his life, McCoy had received 57 patents, most of which were related to lubrication. Unfortunately, McCoy lacked capital for manufacturing his lubricators and had to give patent rights to employers or sell them to different investors.
It wasn't until 1920, nine years before McCoy passed away, that he was able to open the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. By then, his name was already well-respected in the industry. It's even been said that due to many inferior products being produced to mimic McCoy's design, railway engineers would request the "real McCoy" to ensure they were getting the best lubricator around. Elijah McCoy may not have been given a job as an engineer, but that didn't stop him from pursuing his passion and becoming a notable inventor in his industry.