Courtesy of Floyd W. Cook, 410 Hamilton, Washington, Illinois
‘Copyright 1969, The Los Angeles Times – Reprinted with its
I am sure readers of the Iron-Men Album would be interested in
hearing about a great Negro inventor, Elijah McCoy, developer of
drip lubricators and other oiling systems. Imagine having to stop a
steam engine or threshing machine once in a while to oil it, as
they had to do before his inventions.
Also, all you steam engine men, as you look upon the steam dome
of your engine, reflect awhile upon this great Negro mechanic who
made it possible.
We appreciate the permission from the Los Angles Times to
reprint this article – Anna Mae.
Elijah McCoy was a pioneer in the development of lubricating
systems for industry and transportation as the Industrial Age was
dawning in America.
Before McCoy put his inventive talents to work, heavy machinery
of all sorts had to be stopped periodically in order to be
lubricated. McCoy invented a simple though revolutionary device
which made it possible to lubricate machinery while it was in
McCoy’s device was used on the locomotives of the great
Western railroads, on Great Lakes steamers, on transatlantic liners
and on the heavy machinery of factories across the nation.
It consisted of a ‘drip cup’ holding a supply of oil
which was fed through a regulating ‘stopcock’ to the moving
parts of the machinery.
The system came to be known as the ‘McCoy system,’ and
later as the ‘real McCoy.’ Although commonly accepted
accounts claim otherwise, some say McCoy’s invention gave rise
to the slang expression ‘the real McCoy,’ meaning the
During 54 years as an inventor, McCoy patented an amazing array
of devices, more than 50 in all.
Many of the patents were on lubricating devices of various sorts
or were improvements on his earlier system. But he also was issued
patents on a steam dome for locomotives, a scaffold support, a
valve and plug-cock, a vehicle wheel tire, a rubber heel, an
ironing table and a lawn sprinkler.
Born in Canada in 1843, McCoy was the son of George and Mildred
McCoy who were runaway slaves from Kentucky. There is no known
record of his schooling or early life.
But it is known that he moved to the United States after the
Civil War and in 1870 was living in Ypsilanti, Mich. Some accounts
say he owned a small machine shop there.
It was in Ypsilanti that he began experiments which led to the
development of a lubricating system for steam engines. He patented
the device, his first, on June 23, 1872.
In the next four years, McCoy was granted six other patents.
Often he sold the rights to them to raise enough capital to
continue his experimentation.
Sometime around 1882, McCoy moved to Detroit and in the next 44
years was granted an average of a patent a year. Most were for
In 1920, he organized his own company, the Elijah McCoy
Manufacturing Co. In that same year he patented an improved air
He was 77 at the time and in ill health. Eight years later McCoy
was admitted to the Eloise Infirmary in Eloise, Mich., where he
died in 1929. He is buried in Detroit.