I’ve always been a history junkie. Presidents and the Civil War (especially Gettysburg) have been my thing. I can recite the names of the 43 Presidents in order–forward or backward. I also love the etymology of words and the timelines of baseball and music.
Another thing I especially love are the stories of people who were famous but somehow aren’t anymore. There are tons and tons of stars from movies, radio and TV that our parents or grandparents would have thought everyone would always know. They’re like the previous generations’ Paris Hiltons and Carmen Electras. Pretty big deals now, but in 50 years…? Maybe not. Ever hear of Gale Storm? How about Theda Bara?
And then there are the inventors and scientists.
When they made their groundbreaking whatchamacallit, they were the hottest thing going. But either they didn’t market themselves properly (or sold the rights to a big company), or their miracle device was supplanted by something cooler.
For example, do you know who invented cellophane tape? How about WD-40? How about Pepsi (which has an extra “forgotten goodie” with the introduction of the first advertising jingle in 1940… apparently so popular that it was recorded into 55 languages)?
So, in a longwinded way, I’m telling you that I’m introducing a new feature around here. Every so often, I’m going to highlight one of these famous-but-forgotten celebrities in this here blog. Because everyone knows that the Internet is forever!
First up: Elija McCoy
Elijah McCoy (1844-1929) is a triple-whammy on the forgotten history scoreboard.
First, he is an African-American (Canadian by birth) inventor. There are precious few of those who get remembered–much less become pop culture icons in their own time. Not only that, but he launched his own company, too.
Second, he invented something that no one who ran a railroad could do without. In 1872, his first invention was an automatic lubricator for trains. With his device, trains could run faster and did not need to stop as often for maintenance.
Finally, his invention inspired a bunch of inferior copies to hit the market. So, when railroad engineers inspected their locomotives, they wanted to make sure it was equipped with “the real McCoy.” So, now you know where that phrase comes from, too!
Why do I suddenly feel like fricking Paul Harvey?