When Frederick Henry Royce was born in Peterborough in 1863, little did his family know that he was to become one of the pioneers of the automobile industry, after a meeting with like-minded entrepreneur Charles Rolls.
Royce left school and had a job by the time he was nine – a common occurrence in the 19th century. He worked as a telegram boy and sold newspapers, until his aunt paid for him to complete an apprenticeship with Great Northern Railways when he was 14. This act of kindness was to change Royce’s life, as not only did he learn about engineering, he also decided to better educate himself, studying electrical engineering, French and algebra in his spare time. His talents soon landed him a job with the Electric Light and Power Company.
However, the ambitious young man wanted a full-time job in engineering and started his own business with friend Ernest Claremont in 1884 – making electrical components such as dynamos and doorbells. Royce’s interest in building cars was sparked after he purchased a second-hand French Decauville automobile and on finding there were construction faults, he decided he could build a better car himself.
He had designed and built his first motor car by the end of 1903 and was ready to drive the prototype 10hp Royce vehicle on public roads by April 1904. One of the shareholders in his company, Henry Edmunds, was chatting to his friend Charles Rolls (who was an automobile salesman) about the new Royce motor car. At the time, Rolls was selling foreign imports at his London showroom, CS Rolls & Co but he wanted to do something different, so Edmunds said he could arrange a meeting with the man who had designed the 10hp Royce car.
Rolls was keen to chat to Royce and Edmunds agreed to arrange their first meeting – little knowing that this would change the face of motoring and create one of the world’s top luxury brands, which would still be going strong more than a century later.
The momentous first meeting between Rolls and Royce took place on 4th May 1904 at the Midland Hotel in Manchester. The moment Rolls saw Royce’s twin-cylinder motor, he wanted to take it for a test drive. He knew right away this was what he was looking for and he agreed to sell as many of the cars as Royce could manufacture, under the name Rolls-Royce.
The brand was created on the spot and the duo worked well together to rapidly expand the fledgling company, with managing director Claude Johnson expertly arranging plenty of publicity. His advert for the first Rolls-Royce six-cylinder 50hp automobile proclaimed it was the “best car in the world” – a phrase that was always associated with the brand in years to come.
Johnson also arranged many publicity stunts to promote Rolls-Royce cars’ reliability, superior performance and quiet engines, creating global interest in the brand’s world-class engineering.
Throughout the 20th century, Rolls-Royce branched out into the aerospace industry, developing the Merlin engine used to power the Hawker Hurricane and the Supermarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain in 1940. Rolls-Royce also produced the Dart engine in the Vickers Viscount in the world of civil aviation in 1953 and the Conway engine for the Boeing 707 in 1960. Today, Rolls-Royce is a world leader in the field of automobiles and civil aerospace. It is also the second largest manufacturer of defence aero-engines in the world, serving 103 countries.
The meeting between Charles Rolls and Frederick Royce is so important to Rolls-Royce enthusiasts that they celebrate it in Manchester city centre to this day. Members of the Rolls-Royce Enthusiasts’ Club gather at the Midland Hotel (where the original meeting took place) to celebrate with an exhibition of classic Rolls-Royce cars.
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Posted by Julie Tucker
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