Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in Science and Technology

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Elijah J. McCoy, date unknown.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Engineer, railroad man, and inventor, Elijah J. McCoy, was born in Colchester, Ontario in 1843. Well-known to contemporaries as the African American with the most United States patents, by the 1880s McCoy had applied for and received over fifty patents, mostly concerning the lubrication of machinery found in vessels such as steam engines and ocean liners. McCoy also patented smaller inventions such as sprinkler systems and ironing boards. The term “the real McCoy,” so the popular legend goes, originated in the railroad industry in the 1870s in reference to the superiority of McCoy’s products. Customers would ask for the “real McCoy” to insure that they were not being cheated with a lesser design. Regardless of its origins, the saying soon made its way into American vernacular as a term for the genuine article.

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