Elijah McCoy – Lubricating Device for Railroads – Black History Feature

Learning your past can only strengthen you


This Black History post started off talking about slavery and the horrors of it that stemmed all the way back to biblical times.  The more I researched and wrote, the angrier I became.  Although I believe every black child should be visually told about the horrors of our history, especially since none of my history classes, nor my children history classes talked about black history outside a blip of Martin Luther King, the following posts will be about how the endurance and fight of our ancestors paved the way for black people to become more.  Just the mere thought of those whips, chains, hangings, rapes, dogs, water hoses, sickens me to the core of my soul. This makes it even more important for black people to keep fighting for equality and to hold their heads up high.  It would be an insult to their memory if we don’t.


“The Real McCoy” is Elijah McCoy; who was the inventor of the automatic lubricator.  Ok people get your mind out of the gutter.  Elijah McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada in 1844. His parents, George and Emillia McCoy, were slaves that escaped through the Underground Railroad. George was able to raise his family as a free people.  Due to Elijah’s early interest in mechanical tinkering, his parents saved to send him to Scotland so he could study mechanical engineering. After finishing up as a “master mechanic and engineer” he moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan; where he took on a job as a firemen/oilman on the Michigan Central Railroad. 


Working the railroad was not easy. You know how cold, icy and snowy Michigan gets. Elijah was responsible for making sure the train was lubricated.  In order to do this, the train was forced to stop after a few miles, then Elijah would get off the train to walk along side it to apply oil to the axel and bearings.  Could you imagine having to walk on both sides of the train and how long the trains were? Imagine this during the coldest part of the winter.  This explains why Elijah wanted to stop the frequent stopping of the train to walk up and down lubricating the axels and bearings.


Elijah McCoy was determined to come up with a method to automate this task; and so he did in 1872. You can’t blame him.  Remember in 1872 black people usually got the worst of jobs.  Elijah developed a “lubricating cup” that would drip oil where it was needed without stopping the train.  How amazing is that?  This definitely was not in any of my history lessons.  Elijah protected himself by getting a patent for the device the same year. GO ELIJAH! Elijah’s lubricating cup was so successful until the orders came flooding in from railroad companies all over the country.  Of course there were others who tried to copy this invention with their own version, but was unsuccessful. The majority of the companies wanted the authentic device; calling it “the Real McCoy”. 


I never knew where the term ‘The Real McCoy” came from.  My teachers and kids teachers never talked about it.  My history books only referred to the “Hatfield-Mccoy feud.  I was told that statement was because of this feud.  I was never told about the Elijah McCoy, the inventor; nor that he was the reason for the statement “THE REAL MCCOY”.  Elijah went on the create other wonderful inventions; along with his company, The Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. His workmanship is what he was known for.


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Bernice Jackson
Editor & Writer for Rise of Dark Dawn

We at Rise of Dark Dawn are dedicated to bringing you stories that are motivating and educational to grow your business.

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