An inventor and advocate for the history of the international Columbus-based industry that was founded by his father is being remembered by the company that bears his family’s name.
C. Lyle Cummins Jr., son of Cummins Inc. founder Clessie Cummins, died on Jan. 29 in Oregon, where he had made his home for many years, the company announced this week. He was 92.
“Lyle’s contributions to engineering continued the legacy set by his father, Clessie,” said Srikanth Padmanabhan, president of the Cummins Engine Business. “His dedication to preserving the legacy of both the Cummins family and the company have been integral to the creation of the Cummins Heritage Center, ensuring the reverence for our collective history will remain for generations to come.”
Lyle returned to Columbus in 2019 as the eldest descendent of Clessie Cummins to gather for a homecoming in celebration of the company’s 100th birthday.
“It’s an honor to be invited,” he said at the time. “But I think the most important thing is to see how dad’s legacy has been remembered.”
Lyle also said during his 2019 visit that he had fond memories of living in Columbus. The Cummins family lived in a house at 718 Seventh St. for the better part of 15 years from 1930 to 1945, just a stone’s throw from Central Middle School. In 1945, the family moved to California.
“You just felt at home,” Lyle Cummins said of living in Columbus. “It was a very welcoming community.”
The company remembered Lyle as an innovator who had worked with engines his entire life. A brilliant mind, Lyle contributed numerous innovations to the field of engineering and was a stalwart member of the engineering community. He graduated with a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering and began his career as structural engineer in San Francisco. He then earned a master of science in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, where he met Jeanne, his wife of 71 years.
Soon after, Lyle began working for his father. They worked closely during the concept and proof of concept of what would become the “Jake Brake” and the hydrometer fuel system, which they tested together in a modified Chevy Suburban with a small Cummins engine throughout the streets of San Francisco.
Lyle went on to become the senior product engineer for Jacobs Manufacturing Company after Jacobs took on the manufacturing rights to these projects. The Jake Brake was later designated a National Historical Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Lyle received five United States patents on diesel fuel systems, as well as foreign patents, along with engineering and marketing the fuel system developed with his father.
Later in his career, Lyle taught as an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Portland. Two of his works as a writer and publisher, “Internal Fire: The Internal Combustion Engine 1673-1900,” and “Diesel’s Engine: Vol 1, From Conception to 1918” were selected as “outstanding academic books” in the history of technology by Choice, the Journal of the American Library Association.
Lyle won the ASME 1989 Engineer Historian Award, was recognized as the 1985 Sir Dugald Clerc Award winner, and was a Fellow of SAE (Class of 1995).
In his later years, Lyle was a huge supporter and driving force behind the Cummins Heritage Center, preserving and shaping the stories and history of Cummins as a company. After Cummins acquired Jacobs Manufacturing in 2022 and Jennifer Rumsey was appointed CEO of Cummins, Lyle sent Clessie’s United States patent for the Jake Brake directly to Rumsey, a Columbus native he respected. That patent is safe in the collections of the Cummins Heritage Center today.
Lyle’s legacy is intertwined with that of Cummins, and he will be greatly missed by many at Cummins and in the greater community of engineers, the company said.