Continuing his regular series of articles celebrating the centenary of Cummins, Peter Barron recalls the values of the company’s visionary founder

AS Cummins marks a century of powering the world, the company continues to innovate to meet the needs of its global customers.

And underpinning its continuing success are the core values set 100 years ago by the man who founded the great engine manufacturer in Columbus, Indiana.

Clessie Cummins was the personification of the theme for the company’s centenary: “Challenging the impossible.”

“Our greatest trouble has been caused by following too closely old, accepted formulas,” he famously declared. “Mechanical difficulty… can always be whipped,” was another of his quotes, along with “I am going after it and, furthermore, I am going to get it.”

He was a man from humble beginnings who had the drive, ambition, dedication and courage to make a dream become a reality. And, although he was the entrepreneurial visionary who started the Cummins’ journey, he also understood the value of investing in great people to help him achieve his goals.

Clessie had started out as a chauffeur for a banker called William G. Irwin but he was inspired by exciting new technology developed by Rudolph Diesel. He managed to persuade his wealthy boss to invest the significant sum of $2,500 and the money was used to buy the licence for a design by engineer Rasmus Hvid, which became Cummins’ first engine. A small kerosene-burning engine used for farms, boats and factories, only 28 of the six horsepower units were sold in the first year, but the wheels of the Cummins’s success story were turning.

When his new company was almost brought to its knees by long-term problems with the supply of the HVID, Clessie’s response was to design his own engine. In 1924, he launched the Model F with a capability of 12.5hp per cylinder in one, two, three, four, and six-cylinder configurations. With 25 per cent more power than comparable engines, the Model F was a winner, as was the Model U in 1928, the first US diesel to have all working parts enclosed.

The journey of ingenuity continued, with the NH Series being introduced in 1946, and going on to build the company’s reputation for durability in trucks and industrial applications for more than 50 years.

Clessie famously used the famous Indianapolis 500 to test his innovations.  The company designed the first car to complete the race without stopping in 1931 and introduced turbo-chargers in 1952 to achieve pole position.

His Pressure Time fuel system, also tested on the Indy car in 1952, was a forerunner of today’s high-pressure fuel systems and, when he died in 1968, the former chauffeur had 33 patents relating to diesel engines and fuel systems.

Cummins’ Darlington plant was opened three years before Clessie’s death and has gone on to play a key role in global growth which led to a record 1.5m engines being sold by the company in 2018, with a record turnover of $24 billion. The Darlington plant played its part by selling 62,000 engines in 2018, the second highest in its history.

It is a source of great local pride amongst the employees that engines powered in Darlington are used in buses, tractors, trucks, boats, excavators and other vehicles right around the world.

And the man they have to thank is Clessie Cummins: entrepreneur, visionary and challenger of the impossible.

The Northern Echo: