6A     Weekend Edition
9A     This American Life
10A   Reveal
11A   Thistle & Shamrock
12P   Folk Alley
banner101 3

Pull up Google on Monday, and you'll see a doodle of a Black man next to a stack of patents, gazing at an old-fashioned train.

That's Elijah McCoy, the revolutionary Black inventor who was born 178 years ago today.

McCoy's parents escaped slavery in Kentucky on the Underground Railroad and settled in Canada, where they gave birth to their son in 1844.

At age 15, McCoy traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland to study mechanical engineering. But when he returned home to his family – now living in Ypsilanti, Mich. – he couldn't find a job as an engineer because of his race, according to the Detroit Historical Society.

Instead, McCoy went to work as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad, where part of his job was to lubricate engine components.

At that time, engines had to be stopped and lubricated before they could be restarted, the National Inventors Hall of Fame said, which was an inefficient process.

That's when McCoy had his big idea: an automatic lubricator that kept engines oiled while they were in operation.

McCoy patented his invention in 1872 and continued to improve on the design.

The innovation was a smash hit and found its way into "long distance locomotives, transatlantic ships, and factory machines," the hall of fame noted. But as with most any successful new creation, McCoy's automatic lubricator spawned an array of knock-offs.

It is suspected, though not confirmed, that customers who wanted to buy McCoy's invention specifically – and not an imitation – began asking for "the real McCoy," a phrase that's used today to describe something authentic.

  • SoCo Calendar
  • Latest News
  • Right Now
  • Weather
  • Earthquakes
  • First News
Read More
thumbnail FirstNews logoA weekday early morning podcast that offers a first look at the top local news stories and weather forecast you need to start your day.

Sonoma County news stories featuring the latest in breaking news, county government, elections, environment, cultural happenings, and updates on your communities, from Petaluma to Cloverdale, and from Sonoma to Bodega Bay, and everyplace in between.

Subscribe to the Sonoma County First News podcast through our website, the NorCal Mobile App, NPR Podcasts, NPR One, iTunes/Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Read More

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.