Alexander Miles
Elijah McCoy
  Lewis Latimer
  Jan Ernst Matzeliger
  Granville T. Woods
  George Washington Carver
  Madam C. J. Walker
  Garrett Morgan
  Dr. Charles Richard Drew
  Otis Boykin
  James E. West
  Dr. Patricia Bath
  Lonnie G. Johnson
  Mark Dean

Famous African American Inventors

© Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture/NYPL/Science Source

Elijah McCoy


McCoy's invention enabled trains to run faster and more efficiently.

Background: McCoy was born in Colchester in Ontario, Canada. His parents were former slaves from Kentucky who escaped to Canada on the Underground Railroad. The family eventually returned to the United States, settling in Michigan. As a teen, McCoy traveled to Scotland to study mechanical engineering. He had trouble finding skilled work when he returned to America. Instead, he became a fireman with the Michigan Central Railroad. One of his duties was oiling steam engine parts. The oiling had to be done frequently and required the train to stop.

Invention: In 1872, McCoy developed an automatic lubricator that spread oil evenly over a train's engine while it was still moving. The invention allowed trains to run for long periods of time without stopping, which saved both time and money. McCoy was a prolific inventor, securing dozens of patents in his lifetime.

Did You Know? As his invention grew in popularity, inferior copycats emerged. Railway engineers requested "the real McCoy." The popular expression, meaning "the real thing," is still used today.