I've always heard the phrase, "Oh, he's the Real McCoy." And I took it to mean that whoever they were talking about was the "real deal," a big deal, and not a fake. But strangely enough, I never thought about where the term came from.

Turns out, it's from Michigan, and yes, there really WAS a REAL "Real McCoy," and his name was Elijah J. McCoy.

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Who is The Real McCoy?

McCoy was a black man born free in 1844 on the Ontario Coast of lake Erie. His parents had fled from enslavement in Kentucky. However, their family felt safe enough to return to the United States, in 1847, and settled in Ypsilanti.

McCoy became a U.S. Resident and began working for the Michigan Central Railroad, which is where he began to make his name infamous.


How did he become The Real McCoy?

During his time in the rail industry, he patented more inventions than any other black innovator at the time, including the first automated lubrication system for locomotives. Some of his other patents include an ironing board and lawn sprinkler, and when he died in 1929, he held 57 individual patents.

But it was his self-lubricating system for trains that made him famous. In fact, his invention was SO successful, it was impossible to market knock-offs that weren't "the Real McCoy."

From that day on, the phrase became synonymous with "The real thing," and everything genuine or legitimate.

To this day, Ypsilanti has a historical marker commemorating Elijah's live as, "The Real McCoy."

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