Elijah McCoy was born sometime in 1843 or 1844; his actual birthdate is unknown. It is known that his parents, George and Mildred McCoy, were slaves who had left their home in Kentucky and fled to freedom in Canada. George joined the British Army. After his hitch was up, he moved to one hundred and sixty acres of land that was given to him by the government in honor of his service. George and Mildred raised Elijah and his eleven siblings on this land which was located near Colchester, Ontario.
As Elijah McCoy grew up, he developed a keen interest with how tools and machines worked.
When he was sixteen years old, he became an apprentice in Mechanical Engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland. McCoy ended up becoming a Master Mechanic and an Engineer.
After the slaves were given their freedom when the Civil War ended, George McCoy and his family returned to the states. But, they didn’t return to Kentucky. Instead, they traveled north to Detroit, Michigan. There were better job opportunities in the North than in the South…but not for an Afro-American man. Even though he was a trained engineer, prejudice was still alive and well, and Elijah had a difficult time finding a job.
Elijah finally got a job at the Michigan Central Railroad in 1870. He was a fireman and an oiler.
As a fireman, he had to keep his locomotive stoked with coal. As an oiler, he had to oil all the moving parts of the locomotive anytime it made a stop for water.
Though his new job didn’t use any of his engineering skills, Elijah used them to invent his first product in 1872. It was an automatic lubricating cup for steam engines. He received a United States patent for this invention on June 23, 1872. The Michigan Central Railroad liked his idea, and the company installed his invention on their locomotives.
From there, the automatic lubricating cup became popular and it was installed on other types of steam engines.
Elijah McCoy ended up obtaining at least fifty-seven patents in his lifetime. Most of the patents were lubrication devices that saved human time and labor. Unfortunately, Elijah didn’t have the money to finance the manufacturing of his inventions. Therefore, he was forced to sell the rights to investors. His inventions probably earned millions of dollars, but Elijah only received a very small portion of that.
His personal life had its ups and downs too. He married a young Afro-American woman named Ann Elizabeth Stewart in 1868. Their marriage only lasted four years because she passed away in 1872. She was just twenty-five years old.
The following year he married a woman named Mary Eleanora Delaney. Their union lasted fifty years, but they had no children.
When Elijah McCoy was seventy-seven years old, he and a group of investors started the “Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company” in Detroit, Michigan. The factory successfully made and marketed his patented graphite lubricators.
Unfortunately, Elijah and Mary McCoy were seriously injured in a traffic accident sometime after the factory opened. Mary never completely recovered, and she passed away in 1923. Elijah’s health never returned to normal, and he was confined to a nursing home in 1928.
Finally, Elijah McCoy, the famous Afro-American inventor, passed away on October 10, 1929 in Michigan.