As we countdown to our 100-year anniversary, we will share a series of stories to highlight the history of Cummins. In this series, we reflect on our rich history of turning challenges into opportunities.
Cummins is a global power leader, but it didn’t start out that way. The company was on the verge of failing. In 1929, after a decade of being in business, the Cummins Engine Company had yet to see a profit. W.G. Irwin told his business partner, Clessie Cummins, the company had no chance of success. At the turn of the year, if there was no new sign of hope, the Cummins Engine Company would cease to exist.
A series of events unfolded that put Cummins in the automotive market, saved the company, and paved a future, in which Cummins would survive.
The stock market crashed in October of 1929, signaling the beginning of the Great Depression, however, this also signaled the resurgence of the company, but Clessie couldn’t see it. Devastated by the thought of losing his company, Clessie drove to W.G. Irwin’s home on Christmas morning 1929, hoping to get his investor to see one final engineering idea. As a natural showman, Clessie knew the importance of presentation when trying to communicate, thus he arrived at W.G.’s home in his 1925 Packard limousine, powered with a Model U engine. Clessie wanted to take W.G. for a ride, but W.G. was not interested, after all … it was Christmas, and he wanted to be with family. However, after Clessie’s persistence, W.G. reluctantly agreed to go for a ride.
After only a few miles, the engine overheated and the car began to smoke. This made W.G. Irwin furious, as he did not want to go on a ride, and was now stranded on the side of the road on Christmas, instead of celebrating the holiday with his family in a warm house. Clessie didn’t panic; he shut the car off and went to solve the problem. W.G. was not waiting in the car, but had followed Clessie to see what was wrong. To Irwin’s surprise, the vehicle was powered by a Cummins diesel engine, the first of its kind in America. This revelation quickly changed W.G.’s mood, as he became very excited by the future possibilities this opportunity presented. Although Clessie’s Christmas ride did not go as he planned, it restored W.G.’s confidence in Clessie’s innovation, and he put his full support behind the engine that would keep the company alive.
That engine, the Model U didn’t just save the company, it shattered records time and time again. Clessie drove that 1925 Packard over 800 miles on the first-ever, long distance diesel trip from Indianapolis, Ind. (USA) to New York, NY (USA). In March 1930, the Packard roadster set a record of 80 miles per hour (mph) at Daytona Beach, Fla. (USA).
A year later, the Model U was installed in the Duesenberg “Number 8” race car. The diesel race car was the first to break the 100-mph barrier at Daytona Beach, Fla. (USA). On May 30, 1931, the same vehicle became the first car in the history of the Indianapolis 500 to complete and finish the race without stopping.
By now, the Model U was proving to have versatility, as it was installed in the first truck to complete a coast-to-coast diesel cargo run. The engine powered a truck driven from New York, NY (USA) to Los Angeles, Calif. (USA) in August 1931. While the Model U continued to write history, another Cummins engine, the Model H, began its own chapter when it was installed in an Indiana truck for an endurance run at the Indianapolis 500 track. Clessie completed 14,600 miles without stopping with that Model H powered truck, further proving Cummins’ early commitment to innovation and dependability.
This streak continued in 1932 when a 32-seat Mack bus was repowered with a Model H diesel engine, setting a transcontinental bus record. The trip from New York, NY (USA) to Los Angeles, Calif. (USA) was completed in just over 91 hours, clocking speeds up to 65 mph and exceeding train travel time.
Although uncertain about the outcome, Clessie boldly introduced the diesel engine into the automotive industry. Embracing the challenge, Clessie turned a routine drive with W.G. Irwin into an opportunity to prove the viability of the Model U.
Nearly one hundred years after the introduction of the Cummins engine, our journey continues. Follow along, as we continue to explore Cummins history of challenging the impossible.