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inventor of lubrication devices
Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, on May 2, 1844, one of 12 children born to slaves who had escaped from Kentucky via the Underground Railroad. The family returned to the United States and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan, in 1847.
McCoy showed a strong interest in mechanics at an early age, and when he was 15 his parents arranged for him to travel to Scotland for an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering; he returned to Michigan after becoming a certified mechanical engineer. Unable to find engineering work due to his race, he accepted a position as a fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad. In the course of doing his job McCoy invented a lubricating cap that distributed oil evenly over a locomotive's moving parts, which allowed trains to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance. He received U. S. Patent 129,843 for his "Improvement in Lubricators for Steam-Engines" on July 23, 1872.
McCoy received almost 60 patents over the course of his life. Most of his inventions were related to lubrication systems, including a lubricator for use with air-pump brakes, a graphite lubricator specially designed for "superheater locomotives," and a steam done for locomotives. He also developed designs for a folding ironing board, a lawn sprinkler, durable rubber heels for shoes, a portable scaffold support, and other machines. Although he was recognized for his achievements, his name did not appear on the vast majority of products he invented. Lacking the capital to manufacture any of his machines in large numbers, he typically assigned his patent rights to his employers or sold them to investors. That finally changed in 1920, when he formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company to produce lubricators bearing his name.
Elijah McCoy died in the Eloise Infirmary in Detroit, Michigan, on October 10, 1929, and was buried at Detroit Memorial Park East in Warren.
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This page was last updated on June 25, 2018.