Inventors and Inventions
Black History and Blacks in U.S. History
The Real McCoy: The Life of Elijah McCoy, Inventor

The Real McCoy: The Life of Elijah McCoy, Inventor
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 4 to 5
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   6.26

     challenging words:    company-The, firebox, heated, lubricate, oilman, legacy, finding, education, historic, shortly, executive, expression, phrase, automobile, farmland, settled
     content words:    Elijah McCoy, Underground Railroad, African Americans, Canadian Army, Rebel War, United States, In Canada, In Scotland, Civil War, President Lincoln

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The Real McCoy: The Life of Elijah McCoy, Inventor
By Joyce Furstenau

1     Have you ever heard the expression, "the real McCoy?" It means something is original- it's the first of its kind. There are several possible sources of this phrase. One involves an invention by an African-American man named Elijah McCoy.
2     Elijah McCoy was born in Canada in 1844. His parents were former slaves. They escaped to Canada using the Underground Railroad. Once they reached Canada, they found freedom. His father looked for work there. It was still a difficult time for African Americans. Elija's father joined the Canadian Army. He served in the 1837 Rebel War. In return for his service, he was given one hundred and sixty acres of farmland. Elijah and his brothers and sisters were raised on this farm. They were all raised as free Canadian citizens.
3     It was against the law in the United States for slaves to learn how to read and write at that time. In Canada, any property owner could send his children to school. Elijah's father was a landowner. He could vote and send his children to public school. Elijah went to a school for Black children in Canada. He learned to read and write there. He also began to show interest in mechanical devices. Elijah showed a special talent for working with tools and machines.
4     When Elijah was sixteen years old, his parents sent him to Scotland to study mechanical engineering. In Scotland, he learned how to design and build his own inventions. During this time, The Civil War broke out in America. By 1863, President Lincoln had signed two executive orders freeing the slaves. When Elijah finished his engineering education in Scotland, he sailed back to America. He settled in the state of Michigan.
5     Elijah had a hard time finding work in America. He was still thought of as a slave. No one had ever heard of a Black engineer. The only job he could find was as a fireman for the Michigan Central Railroad. His job was to shovel coal into the fires that heated the water in the boilers that ran the engine. He shoveled over two tons of coal into the firebox every hour. His job was hot, difficult, and dangerous. He also did the job of train oilman.

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