How did the phrase “the real McCoy” originate?

Inventions and Patents Read more from
Chapter Science, Inventions, Medicine, and Aerospace

On July 2, 1872, Elijah McCoy (1843–1929) patented the first version of his lubricator for steam engines. This was the first in a series of forty-two patents, most of which were designed to facilitate machine lubrication. Numerous continuous industrial devices flooded the market soon after McCoy’s. According to folk etymology, his devices were sought after and those in the know wanted “the real McCoy,” nothing else. The claim that the phrase “the real McCoy” originated with his devices is not fully substantiated. Around 1920 McCoy opened his own business, the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company, where he made and sold a number of his inventions. McCoy was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada, and after an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland, he moved to Michigan where his family had relocated after the Civil War erupted. His last patent was granted in 1920 for a graphite lubrication device.


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