Elijah McCoy's tragic death story explored as Google honours late inventor

Eve Edwards May 2, 2022
Elijah McCoy's tragic death story explored as Google honours late inventor


As Google Doodle honours Elijah McCoy – responsible for inspiring the phrase “the real McCoy” – we take a look at McCoy’s life, including the engineer’s tragic death relating to an an automobile accident in which his wife died seven years before.

Today, 2 May 2022, Google Doodle honours Elijah McCoy to mark what would have been his 178th birthday.

Who was inventor Elijah McCoy?

Elijah McCoy, born 2 May 1844, was a Canadian engineer known for inventing a number of important developments in steam engines. One of McCoy’s most significant inventions was a lubrication system used by steam engines that reduced friction between the engine’s moving parts, slowing wear and tear.

McCoy held 57 US patents in his lifetime, the majority related to railway inventions. Today’s Google Doodle celebrates McCoy’s career and features a cartoon of the inventor circled by a steam locomotive.

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Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images

Young Elijah McCoy received engineering training in Scotland and the US

Elijah McCoy’s parents, George and Emilia McCoy, were former slaves who escaped from Kentucky to Canada through the Underground Railroad. Elijah McCoy was then born in Ontario, Canada. The family later relocated to Michigan in the US, where George McCoy started working in the logging industry.

The McCoy family saved enough money to send the then-15-year-old Elijah to Edinburgh, Scotland. Elijah McCoy trained in Scotland as a mechanical engineer apprentice but returned to Michigan when he completed his studies.

On returning to the US, the racism young Elijah McCoy faced prevented him obtaining a job fitting the level of his talent. McCoy started work for the Michigan Central Railroad as a fireman and oiler and it was there he developed his first patent.

Although McCoy did not put his name to numerous inventions he patented during his lifetime, in 1920 he formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company, which went on to produce lubricators under his name. His inventions were so good, railway companies would request the “real McCoy” version rather than an inferior lubricator.

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Elijah McCoy died on 10 October 1929. He was 85 years old when he passed, far surpassing the average life expectancy for men of his time.

McCoy’s death was reportedly the result of injuries he sustained years earlier in an automobile accident. It is unclear what injuries McCoy sustained, although some reports state the inventor had been at Eloise Hospital, also known as the Michigan State Asylum, being treated for dementia before his death.

Elijah McCoy’s second wife, Mary Eleanora Delaney, a philanthropist and suffragist, also died as a result of injuries from the car accident. She passed away on 17 November 1923 aged 76 in Detroit, Michigan.

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Eve Edwards is a staff writer for The Focus who has been with GRV Media since April 2019. Having gained a BA (Hons) in History from the University of Bristol, Eve joined GRV starting out as a writer for Reality Titbit before making her way over to HITC. With a passion for music, TV, and cultural news, Eve eventually found a home at The Focus. Eve spent 2021-2022 freelancing for GRV Media while she completed a Masters in Music Performance, and brings her wide array of interests to the company in her written work. In Eve's spare time you'll find her working her way through the day's Wordle, Heardle, and Quordle, or struggling to complete The Guardian's cryptic crossword.