Rolls-Royce history timeline

Rolls-Royce is one of the most famous names in engineering throughout the world. In this section you can explore a brief history of the company and see a graphical timeline of the milestones in our history.


Rolls-Royce grew from the electrical and mechanical business established by Henry Royce in 1884. Royce built his first motor car in 1904 and in May of that year met Charles Rolls, whose company sold quality cars in London.

Agreement was reached that Royce Limited would manufacture a range of cars to be exclusively sold by CS Rolls & Co – they were to bear the name Rolls-Royce.


Success with the cars led to the formation of the Rolls-Royce company in March 1906 and to the launch of the six-cylinder Silver Ghost which, within a year, was hailed as 'the best car in the world'.


At the start of the First World War, in response to the nation's needs, Royce designed his first aero engine – the Eagle, providing some half of the total horsepower used in the air war by the allies.

The Eagle powered the first direct transatlantic flight as well as the first flight from England to Australia – both in the Vickers Vimy aircraft.


The late 1920s saw Rolls-Royce develop the 'R' engine to power Britain's entry in the International Schneider Trophy seaplane contest. It established a new world air speed record of over 400mph in 1931.

Subsequently it established new world records on both land and water. More importantly, as subsequent events were to prove, it gave Rolls-Royce the technological base to develop the Merlin, which Royce has begun to work on before his death in 1933.


The Merlin powered the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain. Demand for the Merlin during the Second World War transformed Rolls-Royce from a relatively small company into a major contender in aero propulsion.


In parallel, Rolls-Royce began development of the aero gas turbine, pioneered by Sir Frank Whittle.

The Welland engine entered service in the Gloster Meteor fighter in 1944 and Rolls-Royce had the confidence immediately after the war to commit itself to the gas turbine, in which it had a technological lead.


Rolls-Royce entered the civil aviation market with the Dart in the Vickers Viscount. It was to become the cornerstone of the universal acceptance of the gas turbine by the airline industry.

The Avon-powered Comet became the first turbojet to enter transatlantic service and in 1960, the Conway engine in the Boeing 707 became the first turbofan to enter airline service.


The other major manufacturers in Britain between the wars were Armstrong Siddeley, Blackburn, Bristol, de Havilland and Napier.

The leader among these was Bristol which, in 1959, merged with the motor car and aero-engine maker Armstrong Siddeley. Three other smaller engine companies were absorbed into Bristol Siddeley and Rolls-Royce in 1961.

Finally, the capability of the British aero-engine industry was consolidated when Rolls-Royce and Bristol Siddeley merged in 1966.


With the emergence of the widebody airliners in the late 1960s, Rolls-Royce launched the RB211 for the Lockheed L-1011 Tri-Star.


Early problems with the RB211 led to the company being taken into state ownership, and the flotation of the motor car business in 1973 as a separate entity.

The three-shaft turbofan concept of the RB211 has now established itself at the heart of the Rolls-Royce world-class family of engines.


Rolls-Royce returned to the private sector, undergoing a number of mergers and acquisitions to create the only company in Britain capable of delivering power for use in the air, at sea and on land.


In 1990, Rolls-Royce formed an aero engines joint venture with BMW of Germany. Rolls-Royce took full control of the joint venture from January 2000. The legal name of the company is now Rolls-Royce Deutschland Ltd & Co KG.


Allison Engine Company in Indianapolis was acquired. Allison brought with it major new civil engines including the AE3007 for Embraer's new regional jet, and existing, successful defence programmes.


Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was sold by Vickers to Volkswagen, although BMW hold the rights to the name and the marque for use on Rolls-Royce cars, having acquired the rights from Rolls-Royce plc for £40m in 1998.

BMW took over responsibility for Rolls-Royce cars from the beginning of 2003.


Rolls-Royce took full control of its oil and gas joint venture, Cooper Rolls, with the acquisition of the rotating compression equipment interests of Cooper Energy Services. It also acquired National Airmotive in California, a major repair and overhaul facility now part of Rolls-Royce Engine Services.

The 1990s ended with the £576m acquisition of Vickers plc which, with primarily the Ulstein and Kamewa products and capabilities joining the Rolls-Royce existing gas turbine activities, transformed Rolls-Royce into the global leader in marine power systems.


Since its inception, the Rolls-Royce name has become synonymous with integrity, reliability and innovation associated across its four main business sectors - civil aerospace, defence aerospace, marine and energy.

Today it is the world's second largest civil aero engine company, the world's second largest defence aero engine company, a global leader in marine propulsion and a leading supplier of energy solutions. All of these businesses have gas turbine technology at their heart.

Rolls-Royce celebrated its centenary throughout 2004 with a series of special events for customers, partners from education and industry, as well as employees, families and friends in the UK, Germany, Scandinavia North America and the Far East.

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