Elijah McCoy was born to formerly enslaved people who used the Underground Railroad to escape to Canada, where he discovered his talent in math and science. At the age of 15, McCoy travelled to Scotland to study mechanical engineering, hoping to return to America and utilize his skills. Upon his return to the United States, McCoy couldn’t get a mechanical engineering job because they were reserved for white men. To make a living, Elijah worked in menial capacities aboard the Michigan Central Railroad, which would serve as a incubator for his future innovations. He noticed the train’s locomotive needed to be constantly lubricated, which resulted in the train frequently stopping. McCoy used his engineering background to create a lubrication device that evenly applied oil to a train’s engine parts without requiring the train to stop as often. This innovation took the industry by storm, and copycats started popping up all over the place. The phrase “The Real McCoy” was used to distinguish McCoy’s device from the numerous devices that imitated his innovation. The phrase “The Real McCoy” was used to distinguish McCoy’s device from the numerous devices that imitated his innovation.
We can learn so much from Elijah McCoy’s story of persistence and innovation.
He found a way to apply what he loved in an entrepreneurial fashion while working in an industry he wasn’t even passionate about.