Elijah McCoy was a Canadian-American engineer and inventor born in 1844, who held 57 U.S. patents. Born a free man in Canada to parents who had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad, McCoy came to America when he was five years old and lived out the rest of his life as a U.S. citizen.
Most of McCoy’s patents had to do with the lubrication of steam engines, but one patent of his that is usually overlooked revolutionized the shoe making industry. McCoy invented the first rubber heel. After working long days on the railroad his feet would hurt, so he started taking pieces of rubber flooring and nailing it inside his shoes. Not only was this comfortable but it prolonged the life of the shoe.
After the turn of the century he started receiving a lot of attention from his black contemporaries. Booker T. Washington even recognized him as having more patents than any other black inventor in one of his books. Many historians believe that railroad workers not wanting cheap imitations of his inventions would state that they only wanted “The Real McCoy”, creating the famous saying.