Elijah McCoy’s Steamy Career
When Elijah McCoy‘s parents fled enslavement in Kentucky and started a new life in Canada, they were probably thinking of giving their future children a better chance. But did they ever dream that one of their sons would go on to become a master inventor who would hold nearly 60 patents?
McCoy was born in Ontario in 1844, in the wake of the Industrial Revolution. The steam engine that redefined life at that time became central to his own career. His parents’ act of bravery opened a way for McCoy to express and pursue his natural interest in “taking items apart and putting them back together.” After being educated in Ontario’s segregated schools, the McCoys sent their promising teen to Scotland to be trained as a mechanical engineer. When he completed his schooling, he joined his parents and ten siblings in Michigan, where the family had relocated.
In spite of his qualifications, no one would hire him as an engineer (because racism was in no way limited to the American South). But that didn’t stop him. In fact, it led to his first patent: the automatic lubricating cup for steam engines. He wouldn’t have noticed the need if he hadn’t accepted a humble job shoveling coal and oiling the moving parts on trains. He used his intellect to make a cup that automatically oiled the trains. The trains no longer had to stop every few miles, and he didn’t have to physically lubricate them anymore!
McCoy received a patent for his wildly popular automatic lubricating cup on July 2, 1872. He spent most of his life improving this invention and creating many others. He sold many of his patents until he was finally able to open his own company in 1920 and sell his inventions under his own trademark.