Elijah McCoy

Quick Look At McCoy

Elijah McCoy was an inventor who was responsible for the efficiency of trains.

Early Life

Elijah McCoy was born on May 2, 1844, in Ontario, Canada. His parents had escaped from slavery and gone from Kentucky to Canada before having him. In 1847, when McCoy was just 3 years old, their family moved back to the U.S. and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan. McCoy showed an interest in mechanics at a young age. At only 15, he traveled to Scotland for a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. When he returned home, he had become a certified mechanical engineer.


When McCoy set out to find a job, it was a challenge, even with his credentials. This was because of racism and discrimination in America. He was eventually able to find a job, and he worked for the Michigan Central Railroad as a fireman and an oiler. McCoy's job required him to use a handheld oil can to polish and grease each part of the intricate engine. After doing this for a while, he realized that there must be a more efficient way to oil the engines. After two years of designing and tweaking, McCoy created a lubricating cup. It fits inside the locomotives of the train engine and evenly distributes oil throughout the different parts of the engine. This way, the trains didn't have to stop every couple of miles for the engines to get oiled. Improved versions of the lubricating cup are still used in trains today. After the invention of the lubricating cup, McCoy continued to work on little things that completely changed the efficiency of trains. In 1920, he opened his own company called the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. After working on trains, he began focusing on improving household items. McCoy was the inventor of the folding ironing board, the lawn sprinkler, and portable scaffold support. In all, he received close to 60 patents for all of his inventions. McCoy died on October 10, 1929.

Elijah McCoy truly changed the way transportation worked and he helped improved life around the house. He did it all while overcoming discrimination and the racial barriers he faced.