Rolls, Charles Stewart 1877 - 1910

English; British

(1877-1910) Engineer and Aviator

Charles Stewart Rolls, born in London in 1877, was educated from 1891 to 1894 at Eton College, where he was a weak student, distracted by things electrical; he went on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he matriculated in 1895 and graduated in 1898 with a second class in the special examination in mechanism and applied sciences. In October 1896, at the age of 18, Rolls became one of the earliest English owners of a motor car when he imported into England a 3.75 hp Peugeot, one of the most powerful available, which cost £225.

With financial support of his father, Rolls opened one of the first car dealerships in Britain in 1903. His firm, C. S. Rolls & Co. of Lillie Hall, Fulham, was importing and selling Peugeot and Minerva cars. He assumed the role of publicist and marketing man while Claude Goodman Johnson, secretary of the Automobile Club, organized the business. Searching for a manufacturing firm, the two visited Henry Royce in Manchester in May 1904 and a test run in one of his vehicles convinced them of its merits as a high-class quality car. On 15 March 1906 Rolls-Royce Ltd, with a capital of £60,000, was registered.

Aeronautics captured Rolls' attention in his mid- and late twenties. During 1901 he began making balloon ascents, achieving before his death a total of 170. He helped to found the Aero Club in England in 1903, and joined the Aero Club of France in 1906. On 1 October 1906 in the Gordon Bennett international balloon race he was the British representative and, having crossed the channel from Paris, was awarded the gold medal for the longest time spent in the air. At the end of 1908 he visited Le Mans in France to study Wilbur Wright's experiments with his newly invented aeroplane. Rolls was one of the first to fly with Wright, publishing an account of the experience in ‘Un vol en aeroplane Wright’, an article in La conquête de l'air (Brussels, November 1908). He imported a Wright aeroplane to England and learned to fly. He took part in a flying tournament at Bournemouth but was killed, on 12 July 1910, when the tailplane of his machine collapsed while he was making a steep descent to the airfield. He was the first Englishman to be killed flying an aeroplane.