Ever wonder where the expression ‘The real McCoy’ comes from? Ask a Grade 2/3 student and they’ll tell you! The Grade 2/3’s learned all about the influential inventor Elijah McCoy on Feb 26. He was born free in Canada after his parents escaped slavery in Kentucky via the Underground Railroad in 1837. McCoy is known for inventing an oil cup that revolutionized rail travel in the 1800’s. Train engines routinely seized up without oil and young boys, often black, would have to get under the train wheels to grease up the engine so it could move again. This was incredibly dangerous work for the boys and meant that train travel was riddled with constant delays. (Incredibly, train engines would seize every 30 minutes or so.) After studying mechanical engineering in Scotland, McCoy returned to Michigan where he invented the new cup. His simple but ingenious invention lubricated a train’s engine consistently so there was no longer a need for dangerous maneuvers under the train every 30 minutes and trains could travel uninterrupted and arrive on time. McCoy’s invention was so successful that he soon had imitators. Train engineers tried the other oil cups but quickly discovered they weren’t as good – they only wanted ‘The real McCoy’.

Thank you to Arts Express and our presenter Linette for bringing Monica Kulling’s All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine to life for the children. It was excellent to learn about this lesser-known figure from Black History.