Royce had a fairly comfortable early childhood until his father was forced to sell his mill and move to London. His father died in 1872 forcing the 9 year-old to sell newspapers. With only one year of formal education under his belt he managed to get an apprenticeship at 18 with Great Northern Locomotive Works from where he gained essential engineering experience.
Making lamps and dynamos
At the age of 21 he set up his own business, F.H. Royce & Co in Manchester which started out manufacturing lamps and dynamos. After initial success the company was forced to diversify when cheaper competition imported from the US and Europe undercut their share of the market. This necessity for change allowed a passion he had been nurturing for a few years to be realized: making motorcars.
In 1903 he made a two-cylinder engine; in 1904 he made three 10 horse-power cars. It was in that same year he met CharlesRolls, an adrenaline junkie with a passion for cars and planes – he later died in an aviation accident in 1910. In order to fund his obsession, Rolls owned a car dealership mostly dealing in foreign cars. Rolls, a canny businessman, saw the potential in Royce’s cars and signed an agreement to take on all future cars made by Royce: these cars would be badged under the name Rolls-Royce.
The first car, Rolls-Royce 10 hp was exhibited at the Paris Salon in December 1904. Rolls-Royce entered the limelight in 1907 with the introduction of the 6 cylinder Silver Ghost. It was such a success that it remained in production until 1925.
Modern-day luxury car giant
The rest, of course, is history; today Rolls-Royce is a byword for luxury. It was Royce’s addiction to perfection that made for such a successful car manufacturers and he was fond of telling colleagues, “small things make perfection, but perfection is no small thing”. A proverb he took to his grave.
Three years after he was created a Baronet, Sir Henry Royce died in 1933. The man who started life as an uneducated paperboy became the most respected car manufacturer of all time. Fittingly, a stained glass window was dedicated to him in Westminster Abbey shortly after his death.