Black History Month: Elijah McCoy-Engineer and Inventor Of The Oil Drip Cup

At a young age he showed a strong interest in mechanics, therefore his parents arranged for him to travel to Edinburgh, Scotland for an apprenticeship and study mechanical engineering. After some years he was certified as a mechanical engineer, he returned back to his family and despite his education due to racism he could only get a job as a locomotive firemen and oiler on a steam-engine train shoveling coal into a train's engine and periodically lubricating the engine for Michigan Central Railroad.

Black History Month: Elijah McCoy-Engineer and Inventor Of The Oil Drip Cup
Elijah McCoy went down in history as the man who invented the automatic oil cup in 1872. His inventions brought milestone improvements in the lubricator for steam engines that were the main internal combustion engines during those medieval years. His automatic lubricating cup distributed oil evenly to the steam engines of locomotives and ships without the need of first having to shut them down as was the case earlier.

The basic principle behind McCoy’s invention was using the steam pressure to pump oil wherever it is needed hence automatic the whole process. With the obvious advantage being saving time and effort since there will be no need for a man operator to do this physically at which time the engine will have to be switched off. It improved on the non-stop mileage a train could cover significantly meaning that the train’s services achieved a higher level of business efficiency so to speak; there were was a significant reduction of train stop in order to do lubrication and maintenance on the trains.

Elijah J. McCoy was actually born in Canada, in the May 2nd 1844 in Colchester, Ontario. He was the son of Mr. & Mrs. George and Mildred Goins McCoy. His parents were fugitive slaves who escaped from Kentucky to find refuge in Canada. They escaped the US in 1847 via an underground railroad. His family was a big family consisting of up to eleven siblings. They later returned to US settling in Detroit, Michigan but as free American citizens.

Elijah fascination with mechanics started at a very tender age, his parents took note of that and encouraged him to pursue his interest. Elijah’s parents sent him to Edinburgh, Scotland to become an apprentice and study mechanical engineering. Working in this position for a number of years, he became certified as a mechanical engineer after which he returned to his family back in Detroit. Despite his exemplary skills in mechanical engineering, the only job he could secure was working as a locomotive fireman and an oiler the steam engine trains. His job description at Michigan Central Railroad was far from what he learned back in Scotland, it mainly entailed shoveling coal into the steam engine, making sure the engine is properly lubricated. This injustice was attributed to the social ill of racism that was so pronounced in those ages.

Despite this, he was highly recognized for his exemplary ability to coming up with various improvements and innovations on his work. A fact that did not go unnoticed despite the fact he job position was not putting his professional skills and talents into best practice. It was while working for the Michigan Central Railroad that Elijah McCoy invented the automatic cup in the year 1872. He obtained a patent of his invention and continued to do more improvements and redefining on his invention. His inventions were adapted to commercial large scale use in both the railroad and shipping industries. At this point the Michigan Central Railroad promoted Elijah to the position of instructor and hence the company continued to use his invention alongside his other 50 patents inventions all of which revolve around the locomotive and ship’s moving parts lubrications.

As time went by, his inventions got the attention of more companies who adapted his inventions. At this time Elijah’s patent inventions were more than any other African American patent invention at that time. He furthered his inventions and got to a total of 57 patented inventions which also including the lawn sprinkler and an ironing board. Despite his ingenuity, he faced a major challenge; he lacked capital to establish a factory or a company where he could sell his patent inventions independently. Hence he relied on his employers to sell his ideas and inventions and other times he sold his ideas to the highest bidder.

However in 1920, things got better for him and he was able to form his own company called The Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. Elijah and his second wife were involved in an automobile accident, to which his wife lost her life and it badly injured Elijah. The injuries from the accident were so severe on Elijah that he eventually succumbed to it sometime after the accident which lead to him being laid to rest on the 10th of October 1929 at the age of 86. He was buried at the Detroit Memorial Park.

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