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The history of Rolls-Royce in North America

In 1906, a self-taught engineer named Henry Royce and a well-schooled business man named Charles Rolls founded Rolls-Royce Limited. Their mission was clear: to produce engines for use “on land or water or in the air”. That same year, the company opened its first US office in New York. Since then, Rolls-Royce has become a world-leading provider of power systems for four major industries: civil aerospace, defense aerospace, marine and energy. The Company’s commitment to North America has been clear since the very beginning.


In 1884 Henry Royce established a small business in Britain with only 70 pounds (approximately $140) – 50 of which were borrowed. Initially, Royce Limited produced only electrical motors and generators, eventually building its first motor car in 1904. That same year, Royce met Charles Rolls whose company sold quality cars in London.

At their first meeting, Royce took Rolls for a spin in the car. Legend has it that as he climbed aboard, Rolls asked Royce to “start her up.” Royce replied, “My dear fellow, she’s already running!” Soon after, they reached an agreement that Royce Limited would manufacture a range of cars to be sold exclusively by CS Rolls & Company. The success of these Rolls-Royce cars led to the formation of the Rolls-Royce Company just two years later – in 1906.

The charter included a provision that the company should produce engines for use “on land or water or in the air.” That same year, Rolls-Royce launched the Silver Ghost - immediately hailed as “the best car in the world” - and opened its first U.S. office, a sales office on Broadway in New York City.

Meanwhile, Charles Rolls had been introduced to the Wright brothers and become passionate about flight. Until his untimely death in 1910, in the crash of his Wright Flyer, Rolls worked hard to persuade his partner to venture into the aviation business. Royce however continued to concentrate on the design and continual improvement of the cars.


Royce’s dim view of the aviation business persisted until war intervened and convinced him otherwise. World War I saw the development of the first Rolls-Royce aero engines, the Eagle and the Falcon. While assembled in the UK, many U.S. suppliers manufactured components for these engines.

In 1919, the company incorporated as Rolls-Royce of America and acquired its first US manufacturing plant in Springfield, Massachusetts. Production began the following year. By 1923, Rolls-Royce presence in the U.S. was substantial, with offices in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland, Hartford and Troy, NY, in addition to the original office in New York City. The company was further represented in 16 cities across North America. Rolls-Royce of America Inc. manufactured nearly 3000 Silver Ghosts and Phantoms before succumbing to the Depression. To this day, Springfield is the only place outside England that Rolls-Royce cars have ever been built.

Royce began developing the famous Merlin engine before his death in 1933. In 1940, the Merlin powered the Hawker Hurricane and Supermarine Spitfire in the Battle of Britain. Merlins were also manufactured in the US, courtesy of technology transfer and a licensing agreement with the Packard Company. (The Packard Merlin was the powerplant for the P51 “Mustang” fighter, regarded by many as the best fighter of its time.) By V-E Day, the partnership had produced over 55,500 Merlins – more than a third of the total production worldwide.

Demand for the Merlin during World War II transformed Rolls-Royce from a small company into a major contender in aero propulsion. In 1944, the company began developing the gas turbine engine and almost immediately took the lead in industry. In fact, the first aircraft gas turbine engines manufactured in the U.S. were Rolls-Royce designs built under license.


The Merlin also facilitated Rolls-Royce entry into Canada. In 1947, Rolls-Royce Canada began operating from a small office at Montreal’s Dorval Airport, supporting the Merlin installed on the four-engine North Star operated by Trans Canada Airlines and the Royal Canadian Air Force air transport command.

Rolls-Royce entered the civil aviation market in 1953 with the Dart engine in the Vickers Viscount. The Dart was the first gas turbine engine universally accepted by the airline industry. Subsequently, the Avon-powered Comet became the first turbojet to enter transatlantic service and in 1960, the Conway engine in the DC8 and Boeing 707 became the first turbofan to enter airline service.

With the emergence of wide-body airliners in the late 1960s, Rolls-Royce launched the RB211 for the Lockheed L1011 Tri-Star. Rolls-Royce Canada expanded to support this engine and subsequently became the first North American airmotive to provide full support for the Tay engine, which powers the Gulfstream IV, the Fokker F100 and the Boeing 727QF. (Today, Rolls-Royce Canada provides repair and overhaul services for various engine types as well as designs, develops and assembles industrial engines.)

Early problems with the RB211 forced the company into bankruptcy - and ultimately, state ownership – and led to the transition of the motor car business into a separate entity. In spite of these early difficulties, the three-shaft turbofan concept of the RB211 is the heart of the Rolls-Royce family of large turbofan engines.


Rolls-Royce returned to the private sector in 1987 and expanded through a series of mergers and acquisitions. As part of this growth, Rolls-Royce acquired the Allison Engine Company based in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1995. The new company, Rolls-Royce Corporation, allowed Rolls-Royce to offer engines in virtually all market segments, from helicopters to the largest widebody aircraft.

Today one of the company’s most successful products is the AE3007 turbofan which powers Embraer 30-50 seat regional jets, Embraer Legacy corporate aircraft and Cessna Citation X business jets.

The acquisition of Allison gave Rolls-Royce a significant U.S. manufacturing presence which further increased in 1999 when Rolls-Royce took full control of the oil and gas venture Cooper Rolls and acquired the rotating copression equipment interests of Cooper Energy Services in Ohio.

That same year, the company acquired National Airmotive, a major aero engine repair and overhaul facility in California and also established a 50:50 joint venture with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) for Data Systems & Solutions (DS&S) a supplier of high-integrity and safety-critical systems and services, headquartered in Reston, VA. Finally, the acquisition of Vickers plc transformed the company into a global leader in marine propulsion and equipment.

2005- Present

In recent years Rolls-Royce has continued to evolve and grow its presence in North America.

In 2006, the company took full ownership of DS&S, and a year later the company acquired Seaworthy Systems Inc., a naval architecture and engineering firm based in Essex, CT. These acquisitions significantly improved the company’s customer service and support capabilities.

In 2008, Rolls-Royce opened the Rolls-Royce Outdoor Jet Engine Testing Facility located on NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center. This site conducts testing on Rolls-Royce engines and is key to ensuring that our engines are the quietest and most environmentally friendly. A $49 million investment, this site represents significant ‘firsts’ for the company: first facility of its kind built from the ground up in the US; first of its kind outside of the UK and one of only three such sites in the world.

The second facility, Crosspointe Centre, located on 1,000 acres in Prince George County, Virginia, will provide manufacture, assembly and test for a range of aerospace products and components. This facility’s campus will also be home to the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing, a unique, workforce training and development partnership between Rolls-Royce, The University of Virginia and Virginia Tech. The company expects to break ground in 2009.

Now in the 21st century, Rolls-Royce continues to be a leader in providing power for air, land and sea applications, fulfilling the early vision of Charles Rolls and Henry Royce - and the terms of the original company charter.

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