The Google Doodle for today honours Elijah McCoy, a Black Canadian-American engineer and inventor whose inventions changed train efficiency. During his lifetime, he held 57 patents, the most of which were linked to locomotives and railways.
McCoy’s parents bravely escaped captivity in Kentucky and sought freedom in Canada via the Underground Railroad in 1837. Elijah was born in Colchester, Ontario, and moved to the United States with his family when he was a child. He developed an interest in problem-solving, mechanics, and trains as a child. He opted to continue his study in the area at the age of 15, and travelled to Edinburgh, Scotland, to work as a mechanical engineer apprentice.
McCoy returned to Michigan after his return because job chances in Canada were limited. In 1866, racial prejudice was pervasive in the United States, making it extremely difficult for him to obtain a position that matched his level of mechanical engineering experience. As a fireman and oiler on the Michigan Central Railroad, he rapidly realised how impractical it was to have to stop trains every few miles to manually lube their engines.
Six years into his tenure, McCoy addressed the problem by creating the “oil-drip cup,” as it was dubbed. The cup allowed oil to circulate steadily around the engine without requiring the train to be stopped. McCoy’s first patent, “Improvement in Lubricators for Steam Engines,” was issued as a result. Later versions of his innovation revolutionised oil-drilling and mining equipment, as well as building and factory tools.
While working as a consultant to engineering firms, McCoy continued to develop new innovations, including patents for a lawn sprayer and an ironing board. In 1920, he formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company, which made lubrication devices with his name on them.
Elijah McCoy was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio in 2001, and the Detroit Historical Museum has a devoted exhibit dedicated to him. McCoy’s inventions and inventiveness kept trains running and provided the groundwork for today’s well-oiled machines.
Happy birthday, Elijah McCoy!