Britain's most famous car manufacturer, Rolls-Royce, was formed by aristocrat Charles Rolls and engineer Henry Royce in 1904. Rolls had been selling French-built cars quite successfully and was looking for a British car to market. A mutual friend, Claude Johnson, introduced Rolls to Henry Royce who was already building his own Royce cars from a small factory in Manchester.
By 1906 Rolls-Royce had launched its first successful model the 40/50HP. This car captured the imagination of the press and public alike and soon gained the name 'Silver Ghost'. The Ghost was well-built and extremely reliable, certainly by Edwardian standards, and remained in production until 1926. By the mid-1920s Rolls-Royce had become so popular in the USA that the company set-up its own US plant in Springfield, although the US buyers preferred UK-built cars and so the factory was shut in 1931.
1931 was a busy year for the firm, which included the acquisition of Bentley. By now Rolls-Royce had become a household name and was exporting cars and aero-engines all over the world. During World War II the company opened another factory in Crewe, Cheshire, from where it mass-produced its famous Merlin aero-engine (as used in many allied planes such as the Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster and Mustang). In 1946 the company transferred its car production from Derby to Crewe where it remains today.
Rolls-Royce has suffered financial problems at various points in its past. In 1971 the company almost disappeared, although it was rescued and eventually became part of the Vickers empire. Sadly the company was sold-off in the late-1990s by Vickers in a very messy and complicated way. Ownership has now passed to BMW whilst Bentley now lies with Volkswagen - quite ironic given that Rolls-Royce spent seven years of the last century supplying aero-engines that would destroy the factories of its future German owners!
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