Depending on your source, Elijah McCoy was born on either May 2, 1843 or 1844 in Colchester, Ontario. He was the third of twelve children. His parents were runaway slaves from Kentucky who had escaped via the Underground Railroad.
When McCoy was a child, his family returned across the border, settling near Ypsilanti, Michigan, where his father worked in the logging industry. As a boy, Elijah showed exceptional mechanical abilities. At the age of 15, his parents decided to send him to Edinburgh, Scotland to pursue a Mechanical Engineering apprenticeship. This was at a time when it was difficult for Negroes to obtain the same kind of training in the United States of America.
On his returned to the United States, McCoy realized that as qualified as he was, he could not get a job as a mechanical engineer. The only type of job he could get was as a fire or oil man. The oil man job led him to become interested in the problems of lubricating machinery that were in motion. He perfected a method for over two years to steadily supply oil to machinery in intermittent drops from a cup. McCoy eliminated the process of shutting down machinery to lubricate them. Little did he know at that time that his name would one day become synonymous with perfection.
During his lifetime, Elijah McCoy was awarded over 57 patents. He was known throughout the world. His inventions were used on engines, train locomotives, on Great Lake steam ships, on ocean liners and on machinery in factories. He patented inventions in France, Austria, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Canada and the United States.
The expression The Real McCoy probably sounds familiar. Machine buyers used to insist on getting the real McCoy. They would not accept anything else but the inventions of McCoy. Hence, they wanted the real McCoy. To this day, McCoy's name is still associated with authenticity
Because of his inventions, Elijah McCoy became mechanical consultant to several firms including the Detroit Lubricating Company. Many were not aware of his race and were often surprised that to see that this so-called genius was a Negro. He faced racial prejudice and there were times when his scheduled appearances were cancelled at the last moment.