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15 October 2020 by Lydia
Black History Month

​October is Black History Month and MPI thought we would take the opportunity to celebrate people who made History in the Rail and Aviation Sectors.


First let us start with a man who you may not be familiar with but who it is said to be the person behind the expression “the real McCoy”…..
Elijah McCoy born in 1843 in Canada. McCoy always showed an interest in mechanics and when he was 15 his parents arranged for him to travel to Scotland for a mechanical engineering apprenticeship. When he qualified he moved to Michigan but due to the racial barriers they still had he struggled to get a job to match his skills. Not to be deterred and to stay close to his passion he joined the railway as a fireman.

Whilst working there he noticed that there were major inefficiencies in the system used to oil axles which meant trains had to stop on a regular basis. McCoy invented a lubricating cup which spread the oil evenly over the engines moving parts meaning trains had to stop less and the service became more reliable. Despite having the patent many tried to copy his design but failed to hit the mark which is said to coin the phrase “the real McCoy” as this was the only one that worked.

Moving significantly forward in time to 1921 and over to aviation to talk about an amazing lady called Mary Jackson. By 21 Mary had two degrees, one in Maths and one in Science but didn't move into the field workwise until 1951 when she got headhunted by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics which 7 years later became NASA. Starting as a research mathematician under a lady called Dorothy she quickly got noticed and two years later agreed to work with and engineer called Kazimierz Czarneckiin the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. With his encouragement Mary took night classes in engineering and in 1958 became NASA's first black female engineer. She analyzed data from wind tunnel experiments and real-world aircraft flight experiments at the Theoretical Aerodynamics Branch of the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division at Langley. Her goal was to understand air flow, including thrust and drag forces, in order to improve United States planes.

By 1979 she had the earned the most senior position in the engineering department but stepped down to encourage more women and ethnic minorities to gravitate to the field and aim for the heights like her. She achieved many accolades in her career including her work getting the first American into space.

​And finally back in time for our final individual, Granville T Woods. Granville left school at 10 and went to work in a machine shop. But with a passion for electricity he studied it in his spare time. Eventually he got a recognised qualification and started inventing. He created over 40 electrical inventions, 15 of those for the electric railway including the a power pick up device in 1901 which is the basis of the so-called “third rail” still used by electric- powered transit systems.

His most important invention was the multiplex telegraph which allowed communication on moving trains by voice over telegraph wires, meaning the railways became safer places. He was called "The Black Edison" by many and the Cincinnati Catholic Tribune went so far as to call him “the greatest electrician in the world”

Three great engineers who each made their mark which can still be seen today. Definitely something to celebrate.