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Photograph of Elijah J. McCoy

Elijah J. McCoy

Born May 2, 1843? at Colchester, Ontario; died October 10, 1929


Elijah McCoy was born to George McCoy and Mildred Goins, both runaway slaves from Kentucky who came via the underground railway to Colchester, Ontario.

The McCoy family returned to the United States while Elijah was very young and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

At age 15 years, Elijah was sent to Edinburgh, Scotland to study mechanical engineering.

He returned to the United States after his studies. The only job he could get was as a fire man or coal man on a Michigan train line, despite his educational qualifications.

During this job, McCoy invented and patented his Improvements on Lubricators for Steam Engines in 1872 in the United States.

In 1874 Improvements on Lubricators for Steam Engines was patented in Canada.

The expression "the real McCoy," which refers to an original or real item versus an inferior imitation, supposedly originated with Elijah McCoy.

Ties to Canada: Elijah's father, George McCoy, reputedly returned to Canada and enlisted in the militia to put down the Red River Rebellion of 1870. It is also suggested that George received land in Canada for serving in the militia.

Sample of inventions patented in Canada by McCoy

Patent Number Filing Date Title
3499 1874 Improvements on Lubricators for Steam Engines
14270 1882 Improvements on Lubricators
21799 1885 Lubricator