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Famous Black Engineers Throughout History


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Elijah McCoy
OK, technically he's not the real McCoy, but actor Andrew Moodie did his best to bring the underappreciated inventor to life in a Canadian production about Elijah McCoy that Moodie wrote and directed himself. Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images
OK, technically he's not the real McCoy, but actor Andrew Moodie did his best to bring the underappreciated inventor to life in a Canadian production about Elijah McCoy that Moodie wrote and directed himself. Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star via Getty Images

If you're looking for an engineer that really impresses you -- or depresses you, if you're comparing your accomplishments to his -- look no further than Elijah McCoy, who received his first patent in 1872.

It's not just that he held 57 patents, or that he traveled to Scotland at the age of 15 for an apprenticeship and came back with a mechanical engineering degree. It's not even that he did all this as the son of runaway slaves. Or invented a lubrication device that allowed machines in motion to remain oiled. It's that the lubrication device became so important to the machinery industry that, as lore has it, inspectors would ask those running the equipment if they were using "the real McCoy." Yup, Elijah McCoy's engineering is so famous that his name is synonymous with the genuine article. Quite ironically, however, there are several "real McCoy" origin stories, so don't be too quick to label this story -- it must be said -- the real McCoy.