When most people want to find a piece of information, Google is a popular choice. From researching what to eat to determining what theorists are saying about the rumored Destiny Child’s reunion album, people from around the globe use Google to help solve their problems, big or small.

To make the otherwise simple “dot com” navigation more aesthetically appealing, the search engine periodically changes its doodle to pay homage to historical figures and events. Today’s doodle is in honor of Elijah McCoy.


The Origin of Elijah McCoy

McCoy was a Black Canadian-American engineer and inventor who changed the game of the train system. With his inventions, he increased the efficiency of train operations. With over 50 registered patents, most of McCoy’s work was related to locomotives and railways. Google honors his work with a doodle for his birthday.

Born in 1844, McCoy is the son of formerly enslaved parents who escaped the torturous environment in Kentucky via the underground railroad. Upon successful escape, they settled in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, and there conceived McCoy.

It’s been documented that McCoy had an early interest in mechanics and trains. When he was 15 years old, he moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to study mechanical engineering. As an apprentice there, he cultivated his skills and grew as an inventor.

Once he returned to North America, he found that his family had settled in Michigan. Faced with the turmoil of racial prejudices, McCoy found it challenging to secure gainful employment. Based on the Detroit Historical Society information, McCoy refocused his efforts and worked as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. In this role, he was partly responsible for lubricating engine components.

The Real McCoy

According to the National Inventors Hall of Fame, this role was critical to train operations due to the need for engines to be lubricated before they could start. This inefficient process sparked McCoy’s ingenuity, and he developed an automatic lubricator that kept engines oiled while they were in operation.

The invention commonly known as the dry oil cup was patented in 1872, revolutionizing train operations. McCoy’s invention allowed oil to steadily flow around the engine without needing to stop the train.

Although McCoy received much success, he fell victim to the constant hurdles many inventors face – replicas and knockoffs. Continuing to have a successful career as an inventor, people who wanted to ensure the products they received were authentic allegedly asking for the “Real McCoy.”

In 2001, McCoy was honored for his contributions by being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and he has an exhibit near where his family later settled in Michigan.

Because of McCoy’s invention, “the big wheels keep turning” on trains worldwide.