Elijah McCoy, an inventor who lived in the United States in the 1800s and early 1900s, earned patents on 57 inventions in his lifetime. Of his 57 inventions, McCoy's main patents dealt with forms of oiling systems that were used by the U.S. Army and other groups to make machinery more reliable and functional.

Who Was Elijah McCoy

Born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, on May 2, 1844, McCoy became an accomplished inventor. He was the son of George and Emillia McCoy, former slaves from Kentucky who escaped through the Underground Railroad. George joined the Canadian army and raised his family as free Canadian citizens. Recognizing McCoy's interest in taking things apart and fixing them, his parents sent him to Edinburgh, Scotland, where McCoy studied mechanical engineering.

Elijah McCoy's Work

At the end of the Civil War, after completing his studies as a master mechanic and engineer, McCoy moved to Ypsilanti, Michigan. Unable to find engineering work, he became a fireman\oilman on the Michigan Central Railroad. A part of his job duty included going alongside the train every couple miles to apply oil to the bearings and axles. In 1872, McCoy invented a device called a "lubricating cup" to apply oil automatically when needed.

The Real McCoy

Elijah McCoy's lubricating cup became a huge success and orders poured in from all over the country. As a result, other companies created their own versions of McCoy's lubricating cup. People began to ask for the "real McCoy" when placing orders because they wanted McCoy's invention, not that of other inventors, according to the website Black Inventor. Modified various times, the lubricating cup has been used in steam engines, naval vessels, oil-drilling rigs, mining equipment, in factories and on construction sites.

Elijah McCoy's Patents

In 1916, McCoy invented the graphite lubricator to oil new superheater trains and devices. In 1920, McCoy opened his own manufacturing company where he sold the graphite lubricator along with his other inventions. When his wife expressed the need for an easy way to iron clothes, McCoy developed and patented a portable ironing board. McCoy developed and patented the lawn sprinkler when he sought an easier way to water his lawn.