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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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’s death related to accident that killed his wife seven years before
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.