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Clessie Lyle Cummins built his first steam engine at the age of 11 in rural Indiana. Passionate about engines, he left his family’s farm as a young man and began working as a mechanic to support himself.
In 1911, Ray Harroun, a race car driver who learned of Clessie’s reputation, asked him to join his pit crew for a local auto race. Young Clessie made some suggestions to help improve speed, and that car won the first-ever Indianapolis 500.
In 1919, with backing from banker William G. Irwin, Clessie founded the Cummins Engine Company in Columbus, Ind. Together, the two men built a company that was one of the first to take advantage of the groundbreaking technology developed by German engineer Rudolf Diesel in the late 1800s.
In the years that followed, Clessie’s passion for quality and reliability, guided by the visionary leadership of William Irwin’s great-nephew, J. Irwin Miller, helped Cummins Engine Company grow rapidly. J. Irwin Miller became general manager in 1934, and went on to lead the company to international prominence over the next four decades. Within three years, the company had earned its first profit; in three more, it offered the industry’s first 100,000-mile warranty.
In 1954, Miller established the Cummins Foundation, and three years later offered the city of Columbus that the foundation would pay all architect’s fees for new construction—leading to buildings by leading architects from around the world gracing the streets of the Midwestern city.
Beyond Cummins, Miller was renowned for his insight, wisdom, and humor among his contemporaries. In a 1968 profile, Esquire speculated on a possible presidential bid, saying “Is it too late for a man of honesty, high purpose and intelligence to be elected president of the United States in 1968?”
In 1956, under Miller’s leadership, the company had opened a manufacturing facility in Scotland. By the 1960s, Cummins had a presence in 98 countries. This global presence has been key to growth; in the past three years, half of the company’s sales have been from outside the United States. For instance, Cummins has a headquarters in Beijing, where the company is the largest foreign investor in China’s diesel engine sector, with more than 9,000 employees and $3 billion in sales.
Today, Cummins is a multinational Fortune 500 company, serving customers worldwide in the areas of engines, power generation, components and distribution. Although we now have approximately 54,600 employees worldwide, we still remain true to our Indiana roots — and to the vision of two outstanding individuals.