Saturday, June 12, 2010

Who is the real McCoy?

One of my favourite English expressions is the one that describes something as, “The real McCoy.” Curiosity recently got the better of me and urged me to do a minor online investigation to unveil the origins of this saying.

The results of my search were inconclusive as there are various theories that exist and none has been proven beyond doubt. Have a quick browse on and you will see what I mean. One theory is that the saying was originally “The Real McKay,” a slogan for a Scottish whiskey in the 1860s. Others say that the real McCoy was liquor that was sold by Bill McCoy, an American illegal liquor trader (bootlegger) during the days that alcohol was banned in the USA. A third explanation attributes it to a boxing champion of the early 1900s, Norman Selby whose nickname was “Kid McCoy” and therefore packed a punch that could only be termed as the “the real McCoy!”

Some interesting tit bits of history indeed, but the one that caught my attention the most is the story of inventor extraordinaire, Elijah McCoy. It has my thumbs up not necessarily because it sounds the most convincing, but because of its appealing historical value. I do not know how popular the name Elijah McCoy is in American history, but it certainly is not well known in most parts of the world. One of the unfortunate elements about Black American history is that it tends to relegate the number of black inventors to just Henry Ford and handful of others, yet there are dozens, if not hundreds who have played an immense role in laying the foundations of science, industry and technology for the world.

The story of Elijah McCoy can be found here: or In brief it is an inspiring story of how Elijah’s parents escaped from slavery in the USA and fled to Canada where Elijah was born in 1844. When they returned to the USA, they sacrificed to save enough money to send young Elijah to Scotland to train as a mechanical engineer. Upon returning to the USA, the young genius in 1872 registered a patent for an automatic oil lubricator that self-lubricated steam engines on trains and eliminated the need to stop the train at intervals to oil the engine. This invention was soon adapted to industrial steam engines. Similar oil lubricators were not as good as McCoy's; hence it said that customers would insist they wanted the best, the one made by McCoy, the real McCoy! McCoy had 57 patents by the time he died in 1923.

Although his life was full of ups and downs and he was never recognised enough during his lifetime for his skills and talent, his great contribution to the world cannot be taken away from him. Whether or not the expression originates from him, Elijah is definitely my real McCoy!

1 comment:

  1. interesting stuff...
    lol, i wonder 2 centuries from now when someone is talking about 'the real slim shady' how many stories there will be then. well i guess i may never find out!


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