Beginning at a young age, Elijah McCoy showed a strong interest in mechanics. His parents arranged for him to travel to Scotland at the age of 15 for an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering. He returned home to Michigan after becoming certified as a mechanical engineer.Despite his qualifications, McCoy was unable to find work as an engineer in the United States due to racial barriers; skilled professional positions were not available for African Americans at the time, regardless of their training or background. McCoy accepted a position as a fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad. It was in this line of work that he developed his first major inventions. After studying the inefficiencies inherent in the existing system of oiling axles, McCoy invented a lubricating cup that distributed oil evenly over the engine’s moving parts. He obtained a patent for this invention, which allowed trains to run continuously for long periods of time without pausing for maintenance.McCoy continued to refine his devices, receiving nearly 60 patents over the course of his life. While the majority of his inventions related to lubrication systems, he also developed designs for an ironing board, a lawn sprinkler, and other machines. Although McCoy’s achievements were recognized in his own time, his name did not appear on the majority of the products that he devised. Lacking the capital with which to manufacture his lubricators in large numbers, he typically assigned his patent rights to his employers or sold them to investors. In 1920, toward the end of his life, McCoy formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company to produce lubricators bearing his name.
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