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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Rubber heels :The real McCoy

The first rubber heel for shoes was patented in 1899 by Irish-American Humphrey O'Sullivan. He was a printer by trade and stood on hard floors all day. By the time he got home his feet were “killing him”, so he started standing on a small rubber mat. It was such a good idea that his co-workers started stealing it. He decided to nail pieces of a rubber floor mat to his shoes. Not only was it as comfortable but it also prolonged the life of the leather heel. He decided to patent the idea and as more people took to wearing rubber heels on their shoes he gave up printing and established the O'Sullivan Corporation. Elijah McCoy was born in Canada in 1843 but grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He served a mechanical engineering apprenticeship in Edinburgh, Scotland before going back to Michigan. The only job he could find was as a locomotive fireman and oiler for the Michigan Central Railroad. Because of his training, he was able to identify and solve the problems of engine lubrication and overheating. Elijah McCoy developed a lubricator for steam engines that did not require the train to stop. He continued to improve upon his design and invented several more improvements. Railroad and shipping lines began using McCoy’s new lubricators and the Michigan Central Railroad promoted him to an instructor in the use of his new inventions. Later, Elijah McCoy became a consultant to the railroad industry on patent matters. In his lifetime he was issued with more than 57 patents and although he is best known for his cup that fed lubricating oil to machine bearings through a small bore tube, he also improved on the rubber heel. The impact of his engineering innovations was so great machinists and engineers always wanted ‘the real McCoy.”

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