This is a matter for debate by some history buffs, but one of the main beliefs is that it originated from a certain Michigan inventor.

The man was Elijah McCoy who lived from 1844–1929.

Elijah's parents were former Kentucky slaves who escaped and fled to Canada via the Underground Railroad. It was in Ontario that little Elijah was born. Not long afterward, the family moved back into the United States and settled in Michigan.

Reaching teenhood, Elijah ended up studying mechanical engineering in Scotland...but upon returning home to Michigan, he discovered finding a job with his skills was tougher than he thought. He settled for a position in Ypsilanti with the Michigan Central Railroad as a fireman.

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Elijah was required to oil parts of the steam engine – a task that was vital for the train to stop. This is what gave Elijah a brainstorm: to create something that would spread the oil evenly over the engine as the train was in motion. By 1872 he had invented an automatic lubricator – resembling a cup - that would do the oiling by itself, allowing the trains to run faster and longer without having to stop frequently for manual lubricating.

This invention was so popular, that it was only a matter of time before less-effective copycats were being made by other companies. Knowing that there were many inferior lubricators out there, the engineers made sure to ask for the original – the ”Real McCoy” referring to Elijah McCoy's original, patented lubricator. That phrase is still used to this day to mean “the real thing” when it comes to any product.

Elijah acquired a total of 57 patents, two of them being for a lawn sprinkler and folding ironing board.

Now, as for any differences of opinion concerning the “Real McCoy” phrase origin, some feel it dates back to 1856 in the poem Deil's Halloween with the line “a drappie o' the real MacKay”. From there it was anglicized to “McCoy”. Also, author Robert Louis Stevenson supposedly used the phrase in a letter in the 1880s.

So, let the others argue about it.
I may be right or wrong, but I'm settling for Michigander Elijah McCoy.

ELIJAH McCOY

 

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