Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Elijah McCoy and Dr. Percy Julian


Elijah McCoy was born on May 2, 1844 in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. His parents were fugitive slaves who escaped in Canada from Kentucky via the Underground Railroad. When he was three years, his family would return to the United States and settle in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He would begin his career as a fireman and oiler at the Michigan Central Railroad. In his home-based machine shop, he would invent an automatic lubricator for oiling a steam engines of locomotives and ships. The lubricator would have trains and ships run moved effectively and efficiently. He would continue to refine his design as well as design new devices. He was recognized by Booker T. Washington’s Story of a Negro (1909) as having the most patents than any other black inventor at the time. Many of his inventions dealt with lubrication but few did not. For instance, the folding ironing board and the lawn sprinkler. He died on October 10, 1929 at the age of 86. He left a legacy of great inventions in which we still use today. The phrase “The Real McCoy” has been attributed to him. The story is that some train engineers would refer to his invention of the oil-drip cup as the Real McCoy System, not wanting to waste time with inferior devices. Although there are other possibilities to the origins of this phrase, I think I like the Elijah McCoy story better.

                Dr. Percy Lavon Julian was a U.S. research chemist and pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was also a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of human hormones, such as steroids, progesterone and testosterone. His work laid the foundation for cortisone, other corticosteroids and birth control pills. He would receive more than 130 chemical patents and he was the first African-American to receive a Ph.D. in chemistry and the first African-American chemist to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

                Percy Julian was born in Montgomery, Alabama on April 11, 1899 and grew up during the racist times of the Jim Crow laws. His parents would encourage him and his siblings to pursue an education higher than an 8th grade which was uncommon during this time. He would attend DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana where he would graduate in 1920 Phi Beta Kappa and valedictorian. He would earn his Ph.D. in 1931 at the University of Vienna. In Europe, he would enjoy freedom from the racial prejudices so common in the United States.  When he returned to the United States, most of this work would be done with Glidden. He died on April 19, 1975 at the age of 76 from liver cancer. 

all information was received from