Elijah McCoy: The Man Who Lubricated The World

Elijah McCoy: The Man Who Lubricated The World

Elijah McCoy: The Man Who Lubricated The World

Are you ready to meet the engineer who lubricated the world? Meet Elijah McCoy, an African-American engineer and inventor who revolutionized the way machines were lubricated.

Elijah McCoy was born in 1844 in Colchester, Canada, to parents who had fled slavery. From a young age, he was fascinated with mechanics and engineering. He studied mechanical engineering in Scotland and later moved to the United States to pursue his career. Unable to find an engineering position in the United States, he took a job working for the Michigan Central Railroad. While working as a fireman and oiler for the railroad, he became frustrated with the constant need to stop and oil the engines. 

That's when he had an idea: What if there was a way to oil the engines while they were still running? And so he set to work and in 1872 he patented his invention: a lubricating cup that could automatically oil the engines while they were still running, thus making railroad operations more efficient. This invention was a game-changer. It allowed machines to run smoothly and efficiently without the need for constant stops, thus increasing productivity.

His invention was so successful that it was quickly adopted by railroads and factories all over the United States. As a result, many companies began to copy his design, but only Elijah's lubricating cup was authentic and efficient. This led to the phrase "The Real McCoy" to describe something that is authentic and of the highest quality.

Elijah McCoy's contributions to society did not stop there. He went on to patent more than 50 inventions throughout his lifetime, including an ironing board, an adjustable wrench, and a lawn sprinkler. He was a true inventor and thinker, always looking for ways to make the world a better place.

Elijah McCoy died on October 10, 1929, at the age of 85.

Unfortunately, Elijah McCoy's contributions were not widely recognized during his lifetime due to the racial discrimination of the time. However, his legacy lives on and his inventions continue to shape the way we live today.

So, next time you're enjoying a smooth and efficient machine, remember the name Elijah McCoy, the engineer who lubricated the world. He was a true inventor and thinker, always looking for ways to make the world a better place. The phrase "The Real McCoy" is still used today and is a constant reminder for us of his amazing legacy that still lives on.

Lubricated Toy Cars

Elijah McCoy was an African-American inventor who was known for his innovations in lubrication systems. To show how lubrication reduces friction and improves movement, let's lubricate some cars!

Materials Needed:

  • 3 or more Mini Toy Cars (like Hot Wheels)
  • Oil to use for lubrication (whatever you have around the house: cooking oil, baby oil, moisturizing oil, WD40, etc).
  • Cardboard to build a ramp → items to construct ramp (cardboard, glue, popsicle sticks, straw + skewer OR pencil, styrofoam or book?)
  • Optional: Grab your Arrrgh Mighty Observation Journal

What can you spy with your engineering eye? Who’s ready to make these cars go fast? Let’s go!



    1. Create a ramp for your toy cars.

    2. Take your toy cars and roll them along the floor and down your cardboard ramp.

    3. Observe how the cars move without any lubrication.

    4. Write or draw your observations in your optional Arrrgh Mighty Observation Journal.

    5. Apply your lubricating oil to the wheels of each car.

    6. Observe how the lubricated cars move in comparison to the non-lubricated cars.

    7. Write or draw your observations in your Arrrgh Mighty Observation Journal.

Explain to the children that lubrication reduces friction and allows things to move more efficiently. Explain that Elijah McCoy’s automatic lubrication systems reduced friction on trains which allowed them to move more efficiently. This experiment can help kids understand the concept of friction and how lubrication can make things move more smoothly.

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Bring the work of these Amazing Black Innovators to life!