Frederick Henry Royce was born March 27, 1863 in Alwalton, Huntingdonshire, in the United Kingdom.
His family ran a flour mill but the business failed and the family soon moved to London.
His father then died in 1872 and Royce had to go to work selling newspapers and delivering telegrams to help support his mother and 4 older siblings.
In 1878, Royce started an apprenticeship with the Great Northern Railway company at its works in Peterborough thanks to the financial help of an aunt.
After three years the money ran out and, after a short time with a tool-making company in Leeds, Royce returned to London and joined the Electric Light and Power Company.
Then in 1882, he moved to their Liverpool office and worked on street and theatre lighting.
In 1884, Royce started a business with Ernest Claremont making domestic electric fittings in a workshop on Cooke Street in Manchester.
Even though Royce invested half of what Claremont put up, they called the limited liability company “F H Royce and Company.”
Henry Royce married Minnie Punt in 1893.
F H Royce Limited
The company was re-registered in 1899 as Royce Ltd with a public share flotation and opened another factory in Trafford Park, Manchester.
Royce was fascinated by all things mechanical and in 1901 he bought a small De Dion motor car as well as a two cylinder Decauville.
Then in 1902, following a decline in business after the Second Boer War, as well as increased competition from cranes and dynamos from Germany and the United States, he began considering the two cylinder motor car as a potential new product for the company.
Royce began experimenting by building three “Royce” motor cars in a corner of his workshop.
He gave his first car to business partner Ernest Claremont. He gave his second car to Henry Edmunds, another of his companies directors.
Henry Edmunds was the friend of an owner of a showroom in London that was selling imported motor cars. Edmunds showed his friend Charles Rolls the Royce car.
Even though Rolls preferred three or four cylinder cars, he was impressed and agreed to an historic meeting with Royce.
On May 4, 1904, Henry Royce and Charles Rolls met at the Midland Hotel in Manchester.
The two men hit it off, with Rolls agreeing to sell all the cars Royce could make.
The first “Rolls-Royce” was a 10 horsepower motor car unveiled at the Paris Salon in December of 1904.
Charles Rolls provided financial backing and sales experience to complement Henry Royce’s technical expertise.
Early advertising, however, actually shows that Charles Rolls emphasized the name “Rolls” over that of “Royce” and promoted the quietness and smoothness of the new motor car.
By early 1906, the two had formalized their partnership by forming the company Rolls-Royce Limited. Rolls was named managing director with an annual salary of £750 plus 4% of the profits in excess of £10,000.
At the end of 1906, Rolls traveled to the United States to promote their new motor car.
By 1909, in spite of the company winning awards for quality and reliability, business began waning and Charles Rolls resigned as managing director and became a non-executive director.
Then the partnership ended July 12, 1910 when the 32 year old Charles Rolls died when the tail of his Wright Flyer biplane broke off and crashed at Hengistbury Airfield.
Henry Royce kept working hard and became renowned for never eating proper meals which resulted in an illness in 1911.
In 1912, he separated from his wife, had a major operation in London, and was given only a few months to live by his doctors.
In spite of this, Royce returned to work in the office as his doctors advised against his visiting the factory.
He insisted on checking all new designs as his engineers were instructed to have their drawings personally checked by Royce.
Henry Royce, who lived by the motto “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble”, was awarded the Order of the British Empire and Knighted after the First World War.
Then in October of 1928, Sir Royce began design of his famous “R” engine while walking with some of his leading engineers on the beach at West Wittering, sketching ideas in the sand.
Following the success of the “R” engine, the Royal Air Force began installing it in their aircraft.
As a result, on June 26, 1930, Sir Royce was named a baronet, of Seaton in the County of Rutland, for his service to British Aviation.
In 1931, Rolls-Royce Ltd. bought out the famous firm of W.O. Bentley.
A “20/25” engine was put into a four seater body. The engine was “hotted-up” and the car was taken down to West Wittering to get Royce’s approval.
They were somewhat apprehensive of what Royce would say, but he gave it his blessing. He told them that such a fast car should have a means of varying the stiffness of the springing.
The night of April 21, 1933, Sir Royce sat up in bed and drew a sketch on the back of an envelope which he gave to Miss Ethel Aubin (his nurse and housekeeper) telling her to see that the “boys” in the factory got it safely. This was the adjustable shock-absorber.
Thus, the first Bentley made by Rolls-Royce Ltd. made its appearance and another famous name was carried on.
Sir Henry Royce died the next day at his house Elmstead in West Wittering. His remains are in the parish church of Alwalton, near his birthplace.
In 1962, a memorial window dedicated to his memory was unveiled in Westminster Abbey. The window is one of a series designed by Ninian Comper and each one is dedicated to the memory of an eminent engineer. He is also commemorated in Royce Hall, student accommodation at Loughborough University.
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