In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describe how opposite forces are actually complementary and interconnected, a dynamic that yields a sum greater than the individual parts. Henry Royce was the yin to Charles S. Rolls’ yang.
Born near Peterborough in 1863, the youngest of five children, Henry Royce moved with his family to London after their flour mill business collapsed. In contrast, Charles Rolls was landed gentry, son of Lord and Lady Llangattock
Unlike his aristocratic partner, Henry went to work at the age of nine, supporting his family after his father passed away. Royce completed just one year of school…while Rolls attended Eton and Cambridge.
Royce however did gain work as an apprentice at the Great Northern Railway, receiving financial support from his aunt. When the money ran out, he left the apprenticeship, joining the Electric Light and Power Company. First in London, then moving to Liverpool in 1882, Henry worked on street and theatre lighting.
Two years later, 21-year old Royce took his life savings (approximately 20£) entering into partnership with his friend Ernest Claremont, who contributed 50£ to the enterprise. Located in Manchester, F H Royce & Company made electric fittings, progressing to dynamos and electric cranes. In five years the company re-registered as a publicly traded company, Royce Ltd.
With increasing competition coming from Germany and the US, Royce focused on the emerging motorcar market. After acquiring a small De Dion single-cylinder motor car in 1901 then a two-cylinder Decauville, Royce saw they did not meet his standards; he knew he could build better. To prove it he built three two-cylinder vehicles called Royce automobiles.
One was given to his partner, Ernest Claremont. The second was sold to a director of the company, Mr. Henry Edmunds, who by coincidence was a close friend of Charles Rolls, who owned a new car showroom in London. Seeing the Royce’s exquisite attention to detail, Rolls, in an agreement signed in December of 1904, agreed to take all the cars Royce could make and they would be badged Rolls-Royce automobiles. Their partnership was formalized with the creation of Rolls-Royce Limited in 1906. One year later he created the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, described by journalists as “the best car in the world”.
In 1910, their yin and yang ended in tragedy as Charles Rolls, an avid aviator, died in the crash of his Wright Brothers Flyer…but not before he becoming first to fly over the English Channel and back – nonstop.
With the partnership ended, Henry Royce continued to engineer the world’s most sought after cars while the aircraft engines of Rolls-Royce became national treasure.
Royce, who never forgot his humble beginnings lived by the motto; “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble” Awarded the OBE in 1918, Sir Henry Royce passed away 1933.