Rolls Royce tale.

Afternoon good people,
my Father told me the following story but I’ve never been able to verify it and wondered if anyone could provide a cite?

Just after the Second World War RR were sent a beautiful laquered box by one of the big Japanese industrial combines, Mitsubishi possibly. Inside the box was a standard sewing needle with a hole drilled longitudinally along it’s axis.

Rolls Royce then returned the gift complete with a needle that fitted inside the first again with a hole drilled all the way along it’s axis.

Nothing more was heard from the Japanese.

Now the reason this may have some truth to it is that my Dad had just finished a bronze bust of Barnes Wallis for a Medical Institute in Bath and he strook me a an Engineer’s Engineer and not given to flights of fancy.

Can anyone shed any light?


Snopes. Drilled wire.

Agree it does bear a lot of similarities but I wonder if that story had been based on the RR narrative?

Note the citation date on Snopes: 1945 with an “appears to date” from 1939 mention.

It’s an urban legend, plain and simple.

You’re missing an important clue in the wording of the story–“just after” WWII. Just after the war, Japan was in ruins. Japan simply didn’t have any big industrial combines in terms of producing anything like sewing needles. What industry they still had was geared toward producing military hardware. They would have needed to completely re-tool before having the slightest chance of producing anything like a needle with a hole all the way through it.

Much the same thing goes for Rolls Royce. During the war, they produced airplane engines, rather than consumer goods.

Being an “Engineer’s Engineer” has little relationshiip to someone’s susceptibility to urban legends. People fall for urban legends because everyone around them is telling them. What urban legends you fall for depends on what fits into your worldview, not how much you know about some technical field.

I heard a version of this in school. Those treacherous Commies sent the USA a pipe saying this is the smallest pipe in the world. The Americans sent it back with another pipe inside.

I doubt if any of it is true.

Can I also ask why because your father had made a bronze bust of Barnes Wallis he wasn’t susceptible to a myth?

And despite the fact that Rolls-Royce had superb engineers, their accountants sucked and the company was nationalized in 1971, sold in 1980 and ultimately split between Volkswagen & BMW. If you brag that you’re the shizznit, you better have the whole package.

Rolls-Royce (auto division) made some bizarre engineering decisions, among them:
integrating a hydraulic (Citroen design) suspension system with the braking system-this was done in the 1970’s-result was that a brake job cost north of $6000.
THey also had a bizarre automatic transmission control-when you moved the gear selector, you were activation a servo motor-and the slave motor shifted the transmission-this added complexity and no real value.
By the time they were acquired, they were making hugely expensive cars with antiquated engines and transmissions.


In the mid-1970s, I worked in the parts department of a local Ford dealer that was the authorized RR dealer in town.
Big deal! They only allowed us about a half-dozen cars a year, so it’s not like you could actively sell them or anything.

Anyway, I used to look up the parts and provide them to the service department for brake jobs. It’s true - they had a weird servo system that was different from anything else I had ever seen, and a brake job was very expensive.

I don’t know about the servo to shift the transmission, but it was humbling to see that the automatic transmission in the new Rolls was a typical TH400 from a Chevy/GM, as well as most of the air conditioning parts.

Well, it was split in three, really. The aerospace arm was split off first (and exists today as Rolls Royce plc) and the automotive arm was later hacked in twain and sold to ze Germans.

What’s your point? I don’t click on unidentified links.

Mouse over shows it’s a link to a Wiki page on the Vulture engine produced by RR during WW2.

Happily not, he was commisioned by a Medical Research Organisation to make to bust to honour Wallis’s work on artificial limbs.

So the first was an incomplete hole, and RR completed the hole by drilling along the whole length. Is that it?

No, the point of the story is that Mitsubishi’s people drilled a hole all the way through a needle from one tip to the other. So supposedly they had some piece of machinery that could drill extremely narrow holes. To top that, Rolls Royce’s people showed that they could manufacture a second needle so thin that it could fit inside the hole through the first needle. They also drilled a hole all the way through that second needle from one tip to the other. This supposedly shows that Rolls Royce has an even better piece of machinery for this process.

All this supposes that companies have money floating around to do nothing except allow the engineers to engage in ridiculous one-up contests.

And all this done by people who are in no way involved with micro technology (if I may use this term although it is really about much much smaller scales).

I’m rather hurt that you would not trust one of my links. :frowning:

Anyway, the Vulture was designed by the same “superb engineers” that supposedly sent the Japanese the needle in a needle. It was an underdeveloped POS that killed the AVRO Manchester. On the other hand, AVRO then replaced two Vultures with four Merlins, also by RR, and gave the world the Lancaster, which started out with the Manchester’s row of windows down the side like it was a freaking bus.