Elijah McCoy


Elijah McCoy was a mechanical engineer and an inventor. In 1872, McCoy invented an automatic lubricator for steam engines on trains. Prior to this, steam machines had to be shut down and lubricated manually. McCoy’s device advanced the industrial age, and the same principle was later applied to other types of steam engines and industrial machinery.

McCoy’s parents settled in Colchester South Township after arriving via the Underground Railroad. Following military service, his father George was awarded 160 acres of farmland in Colchester, and this is where Elijah was born, in the mid-1840s, and raised. At age 15, Elijah McCoy went to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he apprenticed as a mechanical engineer for five years. Upon his return from Scotland, McCoy relocated to Ypsilanti, Michigan and started working for the Michigan Central Railroad. Throughout his lifetime, McCoy continued to patent various lubrication designs. As well, he also invented a version of the portable ironing board.

Elijah McCoy is often cited as the origin of the phrase “the real McCoy”, which was allegedly uttered by mechanical engineers who refused to install lower quality replicas of McCoy’s device that began to appear on the market. This notion has not been proven or disproven.

Sources/Further Reading:

Block, Niko. “Elijah McCoy“.  The Canadian Encyclopedia, 01 March 2019, Historica Canada. Accessed 03 February 2021.

Elijah McCoy. Windsor Star (1959-2010). 14 February 1987. pp. 35-36. Accessed 03 February 2021.

Kulling, M., & Slavin, B. (2010). All Aboard! Toronto: Tundra Books.

Moodie, A. (2006). The Real McCoy. Amsterdam University Press.

Towle, W., & Clay, W. (1993). The Real McCoy