Google is commemorating the birthday of Elijah McCoy, a Black Canadian-American engineer, and inventor who was born 178 years ago today.
McCoy’s inventions revolutionized train efficiency, and held 57 patents during his lifetime, the majority of which were related to locomotives and railways, according to Smithsonian Magazine.
Anytime you log onto the search engine on May 2, you’ll see a doodle of the McCoy with a pencil in hand, next to a stack of patents and an aminated steam train in celebration.
McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario in 1844, seven years after his parents escaped a life of enslavement in Kentucky via the Underground Railroad and settled in Canada. His family returned to the U.S. when he was a young boy.
At the age of 15, McCoy moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study mechanical engineering. According to The Detroit Historical Society, when he returned home to his family living in Ypsilanti, Mich., he couldn’t find work as an engineer because of racism.
Instead, he worked as a fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad, where part of his job was to lubricate engine components. During his time working there, he invented the oil drip cup, which allowed oil to flow around engines without stopping every few miles for manual lubrication.
He received his first patent for this invention, titled “Improvement in Lubricators for Steam Engines.” Later, the invention was applied to oil drilling and mining equipment and construction and factory tools.
McCoy continued to develop inventions, including the ironing board and the lawn sprinkler, as a consultant to engineering firms. In 1920, he established the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company, which produced lubrication devices bearing his name.
His inventions were so associated with quality and good function that people began using “the real McCoy” to refer to quality products reports Smithsonian Magazine. It’s a phrase still used today to describe authenticity and quality.
Elijah McCoy was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, in 2001, and his work is featured in the Detroit Historical Museum.