Clessie L. Cummins, founder of the Cummins Engine Company, drove across the United States to demonstrate the viability of diesel engines in 1931. While descending Cajon pass in California, the foundation brakes on his vehicle faded and he and the crew of his truck were nearly killed. Shortly after this experience Clessie first conceived the idea of using the engine to slow a vehicle going down hill. Clessie developed the first concept of a compression release engine brake in 1954, after leaving the company that he founded. Despite repeated rejections from major engine manufacturers, Clessie continued to pursue his idea.

It was a family connection through Clessie's nephew which led him to The Jacobs Manufacturing Company (established in 1903 by A.I. Jacobs), makers of the world famous three jaw Jacobs Drill Chuck. After some negotiation it was decided that Jacobs would invest in the further development of Mr. Cummins idea. In 1960, the Clessie L. Cummins division of Jacobs Manufacturing Company was established. Clessie finally received a broad patent for the engine brake in 1965. The company was divided in 1986 when Danaher Corporation purchased The Jacobs Manufacturing Co., and relocated chuck manufacturing to Clemson, South Carolina. Engine brake development and production remains in Bloomfield, Connecticut under the Jacobs Vehicle Systems™ name.

In March of 1961 the first engine brake, a Model 20, was sold for Cummins NH/NT series engines. In 1963 the first engine brakes for Detroit Diesel Series 71 engines were sold. In 1965 the model 675 was released for Mack Engines. In 1978, the Model C346 engine brake was developed for Caterpillar 3406 engines. Today, Jacobs manufactures Engine and Exhaust brakes for all of the major North American diesel engine manufacturers as well some in Europe and Asia. These include DAF Trucks N.V., Renault VI, Hino Motors, Hyundai, and Mitsubishi Motor Company.