Elijah McCoy

Last updated
Elijah McCoy
Elijah McCoy.jpg
BornMay 2, 1844
DiedOctober 10, 1929(1929-10-10) (aged 85)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Resting placeDetroit Memorial Park East in Warren, Michigan, U.S.
Nationality Canadian
OccupationEngineer, inventor, initially employed as a railroad fireman and oiler
EmployerMine Coaling
Known forInventions
Spouse(s)Ann Elizabeth Stewart; Mary Eleanor Delaney
First page of US patent 129,843 for Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines US patent 129,843.png
First page of US patent 129,843 for Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines

Elijah J. McCoy (May 2, 1844 [2] October 10, 1929) was a Canadian-born inventor and engineer of African American descent who was notable for his 57 US patents, most having to do with the lubrication of steam engines. Born free in Canada, he came to the United States as a young child when his family returned in 1847, becoming a U.S. resident and citizen.

Contents

Early life

Elijah McCoy was born free in 1844 in Canada to George and Mildred McCoy. At the time, they were fugitive slaves who had escaped from Kentucky to Canada via helpers through the Underground Railroad. [3] George and Mildred arrived in Colchester Township, Essex, Upper Canada in 1837 via Detroit. Elijah McCoy had 11 siblings. Ten of the children were born in Canada from Alfred (1836) to William (1859). Based on 1860 Tax Assessment Rolls, land deeds of sale, and the 1870 USA Census it can be determined George McCoy's family moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan in 1859–60.

Elijah McCoy was educated in black schools of Colchester Township due to the 1850 Common Schools act which segregated the Upper Canadian schools in Scotland. At age 15, in 1859, Elijah McCoy was sent to Scotland. After some years, he was certified in Scotland as a mechanical engineer. By the time he returned, the George McCoy family had established themselves on the farm of John and Maryann Starkweather in Ypsilanti. George used his skills as a tobacconist in order to establish a tobacco and cigar business.

Career

When Elijah McCoy arrived in Michigan, he could find work only as a fireman and oiler at the Michigan Central Railroad. In a home-based machine shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan, McCoy also did more highly skilled work, such as developing improvements and inventions. He invented an automatic lubricator for oiling the steam engines of locomotives and ships, patenting it in 1872 as "Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines" ( U.S. Patent 129,843 ).

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, as they enabled trains to run faster and more profitably with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance. [4] McCoy continued to refine his devices and design new ones; most of his patents dealt with lubricating systems. After the turn of the century, he attracted notice among his black 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 creativity gave McCoy an honored status in the black community that has persisted to this day. He continued to invent until late in life, obtaining as many as 57 patents; most related to lubrication but others also included 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 to produce them. [4]

Historians have not agreed on the importance of McCoy's contribution to the field of lubrication. He is credited in some biographical sketches with revolutionizing the railroad or machine industries with his devices. Early twentieth-century lubrication literature barely mentions him; for example, his name is absent from E. L. Ahrons' Lubrication of Locomotives (1922), which does identify several other early pioneers and companies of the field.

Regarding the phrase "The real McCoy"

This popular expression, typically meaning the real thing, has been incorrectly attributed to Elijah McCoy's oil-drip cup invention. One theory is that railroad engineers looking to avoid inferior copies would request it by name, [5] and inquire if a locomotive was fitted with "the real McCoy system". [6] [7] This theory is mentioned in Elijah McCoy's biography at the National Inventors Hall of Fame. [8] It can be traced to the December 1966 issue of Ebony in an advertisement for Old Taylor bourbon whiskey: "But the most famous legacy McCoy left his country was his name." [9] A 1985 pamphlet printed by the Empak Publishing Company also notes the phrase's origin but does not elaborate. [10]

Other possibilities for its origin have been proposed [4] and while it has undoubtedly been applied as an epithet to many other McCoys, its association with Elijah has become iconic [11]

The expression, "The real McCoy", was first published in Canada in 1881, but the expression, "The Real McKay", can be traced to Scottish advertising in 1856. [12]

Marriage

He married for the second time in 1873 to Mary Eleanor Delaney. The couple moved to Detroit when McCoy found work there. Mary McCoy (died 1922) helped found the Phillis Wheatley Home for Aged Colored Men in 1898. [13] Elijah McCoy died in the Eloise Infirmary in Nankin Township, now Westland, Michigan, on October 10, 1929, at the age of 85, after suffering injuries from a car accident seven years earlier in which his wife Mary died. [14] He is buried in Detroit Memorial Park East in Warren, Michigan. [15]

Legacy

McCoy historical marker, Ypsilanti Elijah McCoy Commemorative Historical Marker Ypsilanti Michigan.jpg
McCoy historical marker, Ypsilanti

Related Research Articles

United States Patent and Trademark Office Agency in the United States Department of Commerce

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is an agency in the U.S. Department of Commerce that issues patents to inventors and businesses for their inventions, and trademark registration for product and intellectual property identification.

Elijah Muhammad American religious leader

Elijah Muhammad was a religious leader, author, and self proclaimed Messenger of Allah (God) who led the Nation of Islam (NOI) from 1934 until his death in 1975. Muhammad was also the teacher and mentor of Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan, Muhammad Ali, and his own son, Warith Deen Mohammed.

Granville Woods American inventor

Granville Tailer Woods was an inventor who held more than 60 patents in the U.S. He was the first African American mechanical and electrical engineer after the Civil War. Self-taught, he concentrated most of his work on trains and streetcars. One of his notable inventions was a device he called the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph, a variation of induction telegraph which relied on ambient static electricity from existing telegraph lines to send messages between train stations and moving trains. His work assured a safer and better public transportation system for the cities of the United States.

Lewis Howard Latimer American inventor

Lewis Howard Latimer was an American inventor and patent draftsman for the patents of the incandescent light bulb, among other inventions. His house is located near the Latimer Projects and is a historic house located at 34-41 137th Street in Flushing, Queens, New York City.

A patent examiner is an employee, usually a civil servant with a scientific or engineering background, working at a patent office. Major employers of patent examiners are the European Patent Office (EPO), the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the Japan Patent Office (JPO), and other patent offices around the world.

"The real McCoy" is an idiom and metaphor used in much of the English-speaking world to mean "the real thing" or "the genuine article", e.g. "he's the real McCoy". The phrase has been the subject of numerous false etymologies.

Automatic lubricator

An automatic lubricator, is a device fitted to a steam engine to supply lubricating oil to the cylinders and, sometimes, the bearings and axle box mountings as well. There are various types of automatic lubricator, which include various designs of displacement, hydrostatic and mechanical lubricators.

First to file (FTF) and first to invent (FTI) are legal concepts that define who has the right to the grant of a patent for an invention. The first-to-file system is used in all countries.

Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History Non-profit organization in the USA

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is located in the Cultural Center of the U.S. city of Detroit, Michigan. Founded in 1965, the museum holds the world's largest permanent exhibit on African-American culture. In 1997, Detroit architects Sims-Varner & Associates designed a new 120,000 square foot facility on Warren Avenue, the museum's current location. The Wright Museum is a nonprofit institution and has dual missions, serving as both a museum of artifacts and a place of cultural retention and growth.

William Austin Burt American politician

William Austin Burt was an American scientist, inventor, legislator, millwright, justice of the peace, school inspector, postmaster, judge, builder, businessman, surveyor and soldier. He first was a builder of sawmills, but his main interest was that of surveying. Burt built sawmills in an area that is now the city of Port Huron, Michigan. He built an excellent reputation for his accurate surveying work on public lands. He became a government deputy surveyor and trained many young men in several states how to become professional surveyors. Burt surveyed boundaries in the states of Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa starting as early as 1833. He involved his five sons in surveying and each became a government deputy surveyor.

In patent law, an inventor is the person, or persons in United States patent law, who contribute to the claims of a patentable invention. In some patent law frameworks, however, such as in the European Patent Convention (EPC) and its case law, no explicit, accurate definition of who exactly is an inventor is provided. The definition may slightly vary from one European country to another. Inventorship is generally not considered to be a patentability criterion under European patent law.

Colchester, Ontario Place in Ontario, Canada

Colchester is a community and unincorporated place in Southwestern Ontario, the southernmost settlement on mainland Canada, and the southernmost point with the exception of Point Pelee National Park. It is located on the north shore of Lake Erie, approximately 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) south of the town of Harrow. Colchester was formerly part of the Township of Colchester South and is now a part of the amalgamated Town of Essex within the County of Essex. Colchester shares its postal code with Harrow as N0R 1G0.

1844 in the United States List of events

Events from the year 1844 in the United States.

Lisette Denison Forth

Elizabeth "Lisette" Denison Forth was an African-American landowner and philanthropist from Michigan. Forth was born with slave status, and worked as a maid before becoming a landowner.

Ypsilanti, Michigan City in Michigan, United States

Ypsilanti, commonly shortened to Ypsi, is a city in Washtenaw County in the U.S. state of Michigan, perhaps best known as the home of Eastern Michigan University. As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 19,435. The city is bounded to the north by Superior Township and on the west, south, and east by Ypsilanti Township.

Charles Brady King

Charles Brady King was an American engineer and entrepreneur remembered as an automotive pioneer, artist, etcher, musician, poet, architect, mystic, industrialist and inventor.

A. P. Marshall African American librarian, educator, and historian

Albert Prince Marshall was an American librarian and educator. He was the director of multiple academic libraries, including the libraries of Lincoln University and Eastern Michigan University. Marshall was an active participant in the civil rights movement, serving in a leadership role in a Missouri chapter of the NAACP. He worked to fight discrimination against African-Americans in librarianship and held several leadership roles in the profession, including as vice president of the American Library Association. Later in his life Marshall focused on documenting the history of Ypsilanti, Michigan's black community members, earning him the nickname "Mr. Ypsilanti".

References

Notes

  1. "And the people of Detroit have time and again been they very sort of pioneers who shape our country with innovative audacity. Near the end of the 19th century, an inventor named Elijah McCoy came to this city, drawn by its potential, and history was made-with more than 57 U.S. patents by the end of his remarkable life, Elijah's vision transformed the railroad system, and with it our trade economy. That's the story of American possibility, realized through the power of the American patent-and I can think of no more fitting name to adorn the walls of this new office than the "Real McCoy" himself." [24]

Citations

  1. "Elijah McCoy Picture". Argot Language Center. Archived from the original on 2013-05-19.
  2. Sources give his birthdate as May 2, 1843; May 2, 1844; or less commonly March 27, 1843.
  3. Marshall, Albertpublisher=Marland Pub (1989). The "real McCoy" of Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti, MI.
  4. 1 2 3 "The not-so-real McCoy". Brinkster. Archived from the original on May 17, 2011. Retrieved February 3, 2011. disputes "Real McCoy" story
  5. "Elijah McCoy, Inventor of the Week". Lemelson-MIT Program. May 1996. Archived from the original on 2003-08-23. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
  6. Quinion, Michael. "The Real McCoy". World Wide Words.
  7. 1 2 Casselman, William Gordon (2006). "The Real McCoy". Bill Casselman’s Canadian Word of the Day. Archived from the original on April 27, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  8. 1 2 "Elijah McCoy, inventor profile". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2008-12-28.
  9. Ebony, December 1966. p. 157. Archived January 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  10. Bennetta, William J. "Did Somebody Say McTrash?". The Textbook League.
  11. Boyd, Herb (2017). Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination. Amistad. p. 420. ISBN   978-0-06-234662-9.
  12. Bond, James S. The rise and fall of the "Union club": or, Boy life in Canada. Yorkville, Ontario. p. 1
  13. Baulch, Vivian M. (1995-11-26). "How Detroit got its first black hospital". The Detroit News. Archived from the original on 2012-07-10.
  14. Bellis, Mary. "Biography of Elijah McCoy, American Inventor". ThoughtCo. Retrieved 2019-09-02.
  15. Black Americans 17Th Century to 21St Century: Black Struggles and Successes
  16. Ebony Archived January 24, 2014, at the Wayback Machine , December 1966. p. 157
  17. Blackman, Malorie, Noughts & Crosses, New York: Random House, 2001.
  18. 1 2 "Elijah McCoy". MichMarkers.com - The Michigan Historical Marker Web Site.
  19. "Detroit Memorial Park Cemetery". MichMarkers.com - The Michigan Historical Marker Web Site.
  20. "Elijah McCoy Home Informational Site". Detroit - The History and Future of the Motor City. University of Michigan.
  21. "Midwest Regional U.S. Patent and Trademark Office". USPTO . Retrieved May 2, 2017.
  22. Anders, Melissa (July 13, 2012). "Detroit beats Silicon Valley in opening first-ever patent office outside Washington, D.C." MLive Media Group . Retrieved July 13, 2012.
  23. Markowitz, Eric (March 1, 2012). "What Does a Patent Office Mean For Detroit?". Inc. Retrieved July 10, 2012.
  24. Kappos, David (July 13, 2012). "Remarks to Open Elijah J. McCoy USPTO Detroit Location". USPTO . Retrieved March 8, 2017.

Further reading