Thursday, July 24, 2014

This Week in Michigan History: “The Real McCoy”

In the Michigan Rocker/Rapper Kid Rock’s song “Cowboy,” he claims to be “The Real McCoy.” Contrary to Kid Rock’s lyrics, the Real McCoy from Michigan is actually Elijah J. McCoy, who patented the first automatic lubricator cup 142 years ago this week.

McCoy’s device revolutionized the railroad business to such an extent that the term “The Real McCoy” came into the common vernacular. Railroad engineers would request it by name to avoid receiving inferior copies – they wanted to make sure their parts fit “the real McCoy” system.

McCoy’s story is actually quite fascinating. The son of former slaves, McCoy was born in Canada in 1843. In 1870, after studying in Scotland and working as a mechanical engineer in Canada, McCoy began working for the Michigan Central Railroad in Ypsilanti.

There, he invented the automatic lubricator cup for steam engines, which eliminated the need for trains to take time-consuming stops to oil the train’s locomotive bearings.

Over the course of his career, McCoy produced 57 US patents – more than any other African American inventor at the time. 

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