Thursday, December 15, 2016

Elijah the Inventor

These are stories that do need to be honored more and made part of the curriculum for every child as models of life achievement to aspire to.  Without question, such stories inspired myself as I was growing up.

That he was black and part of the first post slavery generation is important.  The next four generations were actively suppressed by Jim Crow laws and by this example to the serious detriment of us all.

Yet it is also true that very bright men and women did find their way forward simply by attracting financial support from the wealthy.  It was a rare transaction leaving a dozen untouched for every one assisted.

My own father was offered such support in 1912, but his mother turned it down.  That had to be the case many times..

.Elijah the Inventor

Elijah McCoy was born in 1843 in Colchester in the province of Ontario, Canada, where his parents had settled as fugitives from slavery. The family returned to the United States five years later and settled in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Though poor as church mice, their hard work and thrifty habits eventually paid off. Elijah was sent to Scotland at age 15 to study mechanical engineering, and he returned afterward to work for the Michigan Central Railroad.

Locomotives at the time overheated easily, and trains were forced to stop often to apply oil to engine parts to reduce friction. McCoy invented a “lubricating cup” that applied the oil without the need to halt the journey. He secured a patent for it in 1872 and continued to improve the device for years thereafter.

“Others tried to imitate McCoy’s invention, but he kept ahead of them with his superior engineering skills,” writes historian Burton Folsom, Jr. “His standard of quality was so high that to separate his lubricating cup from cheaper imitations it became known as ‘the real McCoy,’ which many believe to be the origin of the famous phrase. The grateful management of the Michigan Central promoted McCoy and honored him as a teacher and innovator for the railroad.”

That 1872 patent was the first of 57 he picked up during a long and productive life. When he was 77, he earned one for an improved airbrake lubricator; at age 80, he patented a vehicle wheel tire. He founded the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company in Detroit in 1920 to produce and market his inventions and died in 1929 at the ripe old age of 86, a well-loved and celebrated achiever.

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