Celebrating Cummins: Spirit of excitement prevails as company embarks on the next 100 years

A spirit of excitement radiated in downtown Columbus as Cummins Inc. celebrated its 100th anniversary, although an overcast sky and rain put a damper on a few of the festivities.

The Fortune 200 company planned for about 13,000 current and former employees and their families to join the party Saturday morning and afternoon, and a large number of them enjoyed the many displays that showed the company’s evolution, breadth and future.

Lined along Jackson Street were an array of semis and trucks from different eras — including a 1937 Stutz Fire Engine once used by the Columbus Fire Department — that were all powered Cummins diesel engines.

A popular photo opportunity for attendees was just outside the Cummins Corporate Office Building at Fifth and Jackson streets, where the five race cars that competed in the Indianapolis 500 from the 1930s to the 1950s using a Cummins diesel engine were displayed.

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Next to the COB on Jackson Street, some of the very first engines that the company produced — featuring a minuscule 6 or 8 horsepower compared to those now that produce hundreds or thousands — thumped, hummed and billowed smoke, giving viewers a sense of the company’s roots and an appreciation for the evolution of Cummins’ diesel technology.

Cummins employees James McClanathan and Teegan Harrington were among those watching the old engines in action, saying it was cool to see them up close. They also said they appreciated the anniversary celebration.

“When working every day with colleagues, it’s easy to get lost and caught up in things. But when the community shows up, and (employees) are with family and friends, it gives a sense of community that Cummins has globally and here,” McClanathan said.

Providing juxtaposition, sitting opposite of the old engines, was Cummins’ electric-powered semi, representing the company’s newest business segment of electrification.

Across the street from the COB, the Cummins Diversity Choir entertained a crowd of about 100 people with a range of selections, from Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.”

On Brown Street, a line stretched half a block with people waiting to enter the renovated COB and take a tour.

Feeling gratitude, optimism

The day’s scene and the company’s growth from a small startup in Columbus by Clessie Cummins in 1919 to a global operation with more than 60,000 employees gave Cummins Chairman and CEO Tom Linebarger plenty of reason to tell a gathered crowd of several hundred that he was feeling gratitude, pride and optimism for the future.

“Gratitude because the employees, families, the community, the community leaders, customers and partners that have supported us are the reason we’re here 100 years later,” Linebarger said.

Cummins President and Chief Operating Officer Rich Freeland said the day really was a celebration of the employees and their contributions.

“It (Cummins) was built by a lot of blood, sweat and tears by a lot of people,” Freeland said.

Seated on stage with Linebarger and Freeland were family members of two of the company’s most influential employees: Lyle Cummins and Matt Cummins, the son and grandson of founder Clessie Cummins, and Will Miller, a company board member and son of former chairman J. Irwin Miller, whose business philosophies shaped the company’s values of diversity and helping the communities where it operates.

About 90 members of the Cummins family came to Columbus to be part of the celebration. Lyle Cummins, 88, flew in from Wilsonville, Oregon, while Matt Cummins and a buddy drove a 1999 Dodge Ram pickup with a Cummins engine about 2,400 miles from Portland, Oregon.

The Cummins family members saw new historical displays reflecting the company’s centennial in the lobby of the renovated COB, many prominently featuring the company’s founder. One display, called “Dress like Clessie,” allowed visitors to don a black bow tie and gray sweater similar to the ones the founder was known for wearing.

Lyle Cummins said his father would probably be amazed at how much his company has grown.

“He’d probably be awestruck, but then I think he had a feeling he laid a great foundation and the products he developed. … He would be excited and pleased and feel like, ‘By gosh, I started this,’” he said.

Matt Cummins echoed his father’s thoughts about how his grandfather would view the company today.

“I think he would be very pleased to see what’s happened to the company. I was always told this company was one of his children, and he did whatever necessary to make sure people knew the diesel engine could do many things,” Matt Cummins said.

As a goodwill gesture, Lyle and Matt Cummins presented Linebarger with the yellow coat that Freddie Agabashian wore during the 1952 Indianapolis 500 as he piloted the Cummins Diesel Special, which won the pole position with a record speed of 138.101 mph. He gave the coat to Clessie Cummins, and it had been passed down in the family.

A sense of family also was present at the celebration — literally. One of the displays in the lobby featured multiple generations of families who have worked for the company.

‘Tremendous place to work’

Ken and Dana Vogt stood and looked at the display, which detailed four generations of the family working at Cummins, starting with Harry Vogt who was the Irwin family’s chauffeur and gardener.

“It’s just a tremendous place to work for,” said Ken, who retired in 1987 after 32 years.

He started by cleaning raw castings for $1.48 per hour and finished as a manager in the materials department.

Dana joined Cummins in 1981 and has risen to vice president of manufacturing. He said the company has special meaning to him.

“It’s more than a place to work, for me. If someone called with a bigger job and better opportunity, I couldn’t consider it. This is my home team, just like the Colts. They have treated my family very well over the years. I have a lot of loyalty,” Dana Vogt said.

Gov. Eric Holcomb touched on how Cummins has helped families such as the Vogts as he spoke to employees during the celebration.

“You are creating an improved quality of life and an improved quality of place for so many Hoosiers, generations of Hoosiers,” Holcomb said.

Similarly, Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop recognized how Cummins has benefited its extended family of the Columbus community over the years.

“The economic success of Cummins helped Columbus grow and prosper. In two short years Columbus will celebrate its bicentennial. …This indicates that Cummins has been here one-half of the existence of Columbus,” the mayor said.

Cummins leaders reiterated that the company’s relationship with the city will endure.

“Cummins is a global company, but it started right here. This is the foundation of where the company started and where we’ll stay. This remains the heart of the company,” Freeland said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About the anniversary” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

What: Cummins Inc. 100th anniversary celebration

Where: Downtown Columbus, in the area of Fifth, Jackson and Brown streets, by the Cummins Corporate Office Building

Who: For current and former employees and their families. Company planned for possibly 13,000 people to attend. An official estimate on how many actually attended was unavailable.

Notable: Event included music, food, historical displays, tours of the renovated Cummins Corporate Office Building and speeches by company, city and state leaders

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Cummins Inc.

Products: Designs, manufactures, sells and services diesel and alternative-fuel engines and electrical generator sets, and related components and technology.

Headquarters: Columbus, Indiana

Founded: 1919, by mechanic Clessie Cummins and banker William G. Irwin

2018 revenue: $23.8 billion

2018 profit: $2.1 billion

Employees: 62,000 worldwide, more than 10,000 of whom work in Indiana

Source: Cummins

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To read a timeline of Cummins’ past 100 years, visit: cummins.com/timeline.

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For a photo gallery of the Cummins’ 100th anniversary celebration, visit therepublic.com.

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