In our genealogy classes, we often investigate the origin of the surname.  In one case, this led to an interesting historical fact about the phrase “The Real McCoy.”

McCoy: “A common surname of Scottish origin in the lands of Kintyre and then Irish (Gallowglass) origin. it is an Anglicization of its Irish Gaelic form Mac Aodha, meaning "son of Aodh" (an old word for "Fire", a Celtic deity).” 

Elijah McCoy (pictured at right) was born free to fugitive slaves in Ontario, Canada in 1844, but returned to the U.S. in 1847 at the age of five.  It was then that he settled with his family in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In 1859 at the age of 15, Elijah traveled to Edinburgh, Scotland to study and was certified as a mechanical engineer. After his education, Elijah returned to his parents and eleven siblings. 

The only work McCoy could find when he returned to Ypsilanti was working for the Michigan Central Railroad as an oiler.  During this time, Elijah had a home-based machine shop where we made his inventions including: A folding ironing board, lawn sprinklers, and an automatic lubricator for oiling steam engines of locomotives and ships. The automatic lubricator invention enabled trains to run faster with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance. Fifty of Mr. McCoy’s fifty-seven patents dealt with lubricating systems.

The phrase “The Real McCoy” meaning the “real thing” or the “genuine article” is attributed to Elijah McCoy because railroad engineers would request locomotives fitted with “the real McCoy lubricating system” and not an inferior copy that were being made at that time. In 1920, Elijah opened his company, Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company. 

Four years after the car accident that claimed his second wife, Mary, Elijah McCoy died in Detroit, Michigan in 1929 at the age of 86.  As of July 13, 2012, the new U.S. Patent Office in Detroit has been named the “Elijah J. McCoy United States Patent and Trademark Office.” 

Facts from Louis Haber’s  Black Pioneers of Science and Invention and Andrew Moodie’s The Real McCoy.







Views: 1680

Tags: Ancestry, Canada, Genealogy, Heritage, Industry, Preservation, Science

Comment by Bit Devine on June 17, 2014 at 10:31am

Fascinating! As both a genealogy researcher and a writer, I am always on the hunt for stories such as this one.

My grandfather was self-taught, a Sicilian immigrant. He invented the cooling systems for the tomato packing plants down in Mexico. Unfortunately, before his patents went through, his idea was stolen and patented under a large corporate entity...

Comment by Dee Notaro on June 17, 2014 at 12:07pm

And my Italian grandfather made wine which he sold out of the basement during prohibition and homemade ice cream which he sold for one penny a cone with a horse and buggy. not a genius but supported nine children. My father was the genius but nothing I can put into print. LOL . every want to be a ghost writer...can give you a best selling story. 

Comment by Mary Collins Dolan on June 24, 2014 at 3:50am

Fascinating indeed!  There's an inconsistency in his age however. 


You need to be a member of The Wild Geese to add comments!

Join The Wild Geese

The Wild Geese Shop

Get your Wild Geese merch here ... shirts, hats, sweatshirts, mugs, and more at The Wild Geese Shop.

Irish Heritage Partnership

Start a Business Today!

Adobe Express:
What will you create today?


Extend your reach with The Wild Geese Irish Heritage Partnership.

Congrats to Our Winners

© 2023   Created by Gerry Regan.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service