African American Genius Inventors

An image of Canadian-American inventor Elijah McCoy

Millions of people around the world use household, computer medical and automotive equipment that was created by ingenious peoples of African American heritage.

Born on May 2, 1944 in Ontario, Canada , Elijah McCoy invented the graphite lubricator. The instrument was used to oil trains and other devices. The son of Emilia and George McCoy, former slaves who escaped from Kentucky to freedom via the Underground Railroad, Elijah demonstrated interest in mechanical instruments from his youth.

On Track With The Real Elijah McCoy

According to the Black Inventor Museum, after his parents became aware of his keen interest they saved their funds and sent Elijah abroad to school in Edinburg, Scotland where he could receive focused training in mechanical engineering.

Elijah worked on the Michigan Central Railroad after he returned to the United States. His work duties included ensuring that trains at the railroad yard remained lubricated. The fact that he often had to apply new oil to the train parts to keep the train lubricated caused Elijah to think of a more feasible way to oil the machines.

The end result came in 1872 when Elijah invented the lubricating cup. The cup was so effective that it came to be referred to as “the real McCoy.” The term is still used in parts of America today. Besides creating the lubricating cup and the graphite lubricator, Elijah McCoy also created a portable ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. To continue to work on and produce his inventions, Elijah started his own business named the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company.

African American Inventor Helps Blind People to See

Dr. Patricia Bath was born on November 4, 1942 in Harlem, New York to Gladys and Rupert Bath. Patricia received her graduate degree from Howard University College of Medicine in 1968. Post graduation, she interned at New York City’s Harlem Hospital.

Her next job was at Columbia University. While there, Patricia studied about African Americans and glaucoma, especially because she was curious to know why African Americans experienced blindness related to the disease at a quicker rate than their Caucasian counterparts.

A humanitarian by nature, Patricia offered medical services to some of her clients free of charge. She also traveled internationally to help people who suffered eye conditions caused by diseases like glaucoma and cataracts. In 1981, a year before her 39th birthday, In 1986 Dr. Patricia Bath invented a surgical laser and technique that removed cataracts. According to Changing the Face of Medicine’s website, the equipment is called laserphaco.

A pioneer and a lover of peoples from all walks of life, Dr. Patricia Bath reached several historic achievements. She is the first woman ophthalmologist appointed to the faculty of UCLA School of Medicine Jules Stein Eye Institute. She is also the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in America.

Throughout her career, Dr. Patricia Bath worked at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and St. George’s University in Grenada. She retired from her work at UCLA in 1993. When asked what inspires her, she is quoted at Changing the Face of Medicine as stating that “My love of humanity and passion for helping others inspired me to become a physician.”


  1. Scholastic. Teaching Resources. 29 November 2009.