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.