Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Elijah McCoy "The Real McCoy"
Elijah J. McCoy (May 2, 1843 – October 10, 1929) was an African Canadian inventor and engineer, known for his many U.S. 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" (U.S. Patent 129,843 ) 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. First page of US patent 129,843 for Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines 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. See also, The Real McCoy (disambiguation). However this is disputed. The legend is that railroad engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would inquire if a locomotive was fitted with "the real McCoy". This account is disputed as there are other earlier origins to the phrase. Other lubricators were already in widespread use and lubricators with his name were not produced until the 1920s. Personal life 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. 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, a Sanatorium, also known as the Michigan State Asylum (now in Westland, Michigan), before his death, suffering from dementia. Legacy 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. In 2001, he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio. 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 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, 1974 in front of the Elijah McCoy Homes. The other is at his first workshop, in Ypsilanti, Michigan Registered Site S0642 which was erected in 1994. His remains are interred at Detroit Memorial Park East in Warren, Michigan. This fact is noted on a Michigan Historical Marker. courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elijah_McCoy