Elijah McCoy Picture

The picture below shows Elijah McCoy, or the man behind the expression "the real McCoy." Elijah McCoy was the son of former slaves, George and Mildred McCoy who fled the States for Canada on the underground railroad.

Elijah McCoy was born in 1843, in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. At 15 Elijah was sent to Scotland to study engineering. After graduation he moved to Michigan where his family had settled earlier. Despite his education, because he was black, the only job he could get in the States was a fireman. While working as a fireman on the Michigan Central Railroad, McCoy invented an automatic lubricator for oiling the steam engines of locomotives, boats, and so on. Elijah McCoy Picture
According to some sources, the saying the real McCoy, meaning the real thing, derives from Elijah: many of his inventions were the basis of inferior copies. Railroad engineers would enquire if a locomotive was fitted with "the real McCoy"; if so they knew it could be driven with confidence. Others dispute this account of the origin of the phrase.

Here's another Elijah McCoy picture: