A historical marker stands in a small park next to the library in downtown Ypsilanti. It stands in memorial of a African American engineer that created a memorable idiom for something genuine.
Elijah McCoy was trained as a mechanical engineer and the son of former slaves. He made his living as a fireman stoking fires and oiling engines for the Michigan Central Railroad. McCoy sought to end the delays caused by frequent oil stops. In his Ypsilanti workshop he developed a lubricating cup that continuously fed oil to steam engines. His device automated steam engine maintenance that was previously done by hand and he patented an automatic lubricator in 1872. By 1926 he had patented more than forty lubricating devices used internationally on trains and boats and in factories. Other people and companies began “knocking off” his invention with inferior products. McCoy began marketing his oil cups as “The Real McCoy” to separate his products from poor quality imposters. As steam engines faded in use the oil cups did too, but they saying “The Real McCoy” has remained and it all began with an engineer from Ypsilanti.
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