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.


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.


Rolls-Royce opens its 6,000 square metre Marine facility in Shanghai. Located in the Nanhui industrial zone in Shanghai, the facility is equipped with specialised machinery and a 200-strong workforce, including a growing team of service engineers.

The revolutionary tiltrotor aircraft known as the V-22 Osprey went into its first operational use with the US Marine Corps, transforming troop deployment.


The only engine designed specifically for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the Rolls-Royce Trent 1000. In 2006 it runs for the first time.


The MT30 marine gas turbine is selected to power the US Navy’s first two DDG-1000 multi-mission destroyers.

In October the Rolls-Royce Trent 900 was the first engine to power the Airbus A380 into service with Singapore Airlines. The A380 is the world’s largest airliner and has four engines per aircraft.


In 2009 work began on a manufacturing and assembly facility at Crosspointe in the United States. The decision to build a large-engine assembly plant and a new wide-chord fan blade factory in Seletar, Singapore, was announced, the first of these to be built outside the UK.

Rolls-Royce celebrated the first flight of six of its customers’ aircraft: the Boeing 787; Gulfstream G650; Airbus A400M; Embraer Legacy 650, the BAE Systems Mantis UAV and the AgustaWestland Lynx Wildcat helicopter.

Rolls-Royce marine power saw the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship go on active duty, the first sailing of the Royal Navy’s Astute class submarine and the commissioning of the Royal Navy’s first Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Daring.


The engine for the Airbus A350 XWB, ran for the first time in June. At this point 1,150 Trent XWB engines are already on order promising to make the Trent XWB the most successful member of the Trent family.

Rolls-Royce’s naval business secured a breakthrough order from the US Navy to power 10 Littoral Combat Ships with MT30 marine gas turbine engines. This represents the largest naval surface vessel contract the Group has signed to this date. In the UK, six Type 45 Destroyers for the Royal Navy are launched, equipped with Rolls-Royce highly-efficient WR-21 gas turbine power system.

Early in 2010, the short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter deployed the unique Rolls-Royce LiftSystem® for the first time.


The Rolls-Royce Trent 1000 is the first engine to power Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which went into service on 26 October 2011 with All Nippon Airways (ANA).

The 1,000th production Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engine is delivered to Cathay Pacific in November.

In May 2011, the UK Government awarded Rolls-Royce the contract to develop a new propulsion system for the next generation of nuclear-powered submarines.


The short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant of the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter entered service with the US Marine Corps and deliveries were made to the UK MoD.

The Apprentice Academy opened in Rolls-Royce, Derby, on the 2nd November 2012, equipped with workshops containing the very latest machines, tooling and software to help train the high-class engineers of the future.


The Trent XWB engine takes to the skies for the first time on an Airbus A380 test aircraft in Toulouse, France. The aircraft flew with one of its four Trent 900 engines replaced by the Trent XWB.

Tognum, which makes MTU high-speed reciprocating engines becomes part of Rolls-Royce under the name Rolls-Royce Power Systems.