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International Business, innovation, history and leadership, Rolls-Royce represents all that's great about the Heart of the Midlands

The beginning of Rolls-Royce and the world’s greatest engineering company

Charles Stuart Rolls was the son of the wealthy Lord Llangattock. He began the business by selling imported French cars to well-heeled friends in London around the turn of the century.

Frederick Henry Royce had started his career at the age of ten by selling newspapers on the streets of Manchester. He later pieced together the elements of a technical education and built a factory to produce dynamos and heavy electrical equipment. In 1904 he built his first automobile – a ten horsepower machine which came to the attention of Charles Rolls.

When launching the Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit, the company put together a brief history. We see Sir Henry Rolls at home in Cannes, Sir Malcolm Campbell racing the Bluebird and an array of its historic vehicles.

The two men met and struck up a business deal; Rolls agreeing to sell the cars manufactured by Royce, and thus Rolls-Royce, later to become one of the world’s greatest engineering companies was founded. They produced an elegant high quality automobile in 1906 named the Silver Ghost, and its success around the world made Rolls-Royce famous. The new company's far-sighted memorandum of association refers to vehicles 'for use on land, or water, or in the air'. It was at this point Rolls-Royce built its Nightingale Road site to move production of the Silver Ghost car to Derby from Manchester in 1908.


Rolls was a pioneer aviator

Rolls was a pioneer aviator. He first met the Wright brothers in 1906 and had his first flight with Wilbur Wright in 1908. He repeatedly tried but failed to convince Rolls-Royce to manufacture aero-engines at this time - a vision that was to be later realised after his death. Rolls' outstanding flying achievement was the first two-way crossing of the English Channel on 2 June 1910. The partnership between Rolls and Royce ended on 12 July 1910, with the death of Charles Rolls when his modified French-built Wright Flyer crashed making him the first Englishman to die in an air crash.


Whilst Rolls Royce started out making luxury cars, it soon entered the aero engine market during world war 1 because of the quality of their engineering, starting with a contract to make 50 radial engines under license from Renault.


Rolls-Royce the most famous names in engineering throughout the world

Having established Rolls-Royce as the best car in the world, it was the start of the First World War which saw the business diversify into designing its first aero engine, the Eagle. The Eagle provided half of the total horsepower used in the air war by the allies. It went on to power the first direct transatlantic flight as well as the first flight from England to Australia. By the late 1920's Rolls-Royce had developed the 'R' engine to power Britain's entry into the International Schneider Trophy seaplane contest. It established a new world air speed record of over 400mph in 1931. It was the 'R' which provided the base technology to develop the Merlin. 1940 saw the Merlin power the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain. The demand for the Merlin engine transformed Rolls-Royce into a major player in aerospace engineering.


1944 saw Rolls-Royce begin development of the Jet Engine with Sir Frank Whittle

In the early 1940s, building on the pioneering jet propulsion work of English aviation engineer Frank Whittle, Rolls-Royce designed the Welland, the first jet engine to enter military service (in the Gloster Meteor in 1944). In 1953 the company’s Dart turboprop engine, developed for the Vickers-Armstrongs Viscount, was the first turboprop to enter commercial service. In 1966 Rolls-Royce acquired Bristol Siddeley Engines (created in 1959 through the merger of Bristol Aero Engines and Armstrong Siddeley Motors), which at that time was developing the Pegasus vectored-thrust engine for the Harrier vertical/short-takeoff-and-landing jet fighter and the Olympus engine (with France’s SNECMA) for the Concorde supersonic airliner.


Rolls-Royce | How we assemble the Trent XWB; the world's most efficient aero engine. It takes more than 20,000 components perfectly fitted together to build the world's most efficient aero engine, the Trent XWB.


Rolls-Royce - became the world leader in jet engines

Rolls-Royce’s jet-engine operations came to constitute, by far, the largest portion of the company in terms of sales. In the late 1960s Rolls-Royce undertook development of a new, powerful jet engine, the RB211. In order to beat its competitor General Electric, the company agreed to a fixed-price contract with Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to supply the RB211 turbofan for Lockheed’s L-1011 TriStar wide-body airliner.


Filmed at the Rolls-Royce heritage centre in Derby, Chief Designer John Coplin discusses the early history of the Rolls-Royce RB211 jet engine.

Rolls-Royce management made several miscalculations in the process, including a vast underestimation of the engine’s development costs, which led the company to bankruptcy in February 1971. As a consequence, Rolls-Royce was nationalised, and the British government met the company’s financial obligations. It subsequently was restructured into two separate entities: Rolls-Royce Ltd., comprising its jet-engine operations, was established in 1971 and became a government-owned corporation; Rolls-Royce Motor Holdings Limited, comprising the automobile and diesel-engine operations, was created in 1973 and returned to private stockholders.


BBC Documentary on  Rolls Royce Jet Engines


Rolls-Royce is the world's second-largest maker of aircraft engines

Rolls-Royce is the world's second-largest maker of aircraft engines (after General Electric) and has major businesses in the marine propulsion and energy sectors. Rolls-Royce was the world's 16th largest defence contractor in 2018 when measured by defence revenues.

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