The Lanchester Collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Initial deposit: Typescripts of unpublished papers, original and carbon copies of business and private correspondence, manuscripts and sketches, calculations, and some photographs. Papers relate to: biographical materials, 1916-1945; aeronautical papers, 1970-1940; publication of Aircraft in Warfare, 1916-1940; bombs, 1938-1940; the Daimler company, 1927-1935; Gibraltar, 1939-1941; the Lanchester Company, 1897-1938; Optics, 1933-1937; photography,1939; sound, 1919-1933; units, 1931-1939; miscellaneous correspondence, 1918-1941; scientific and technical documents, 1888-1930; verse, 1930-1940; photographs, 1894-1920; manuscripts of published and unpublished books, 1934-1935.

Later deposits include: Typescripts, manuscripts, correspondence, c1916-1940; sketchbooks used by Lanchester as notebooks, c1894-1940; correspondence between Professor R D Lockhart and Lanchester, 1930s-1946; two large volumes containing over 1000 original photographs of Lanchester cars taken near the factory,1908-1918; blue prints for the Lanchester Motor Company Ltd, Birmingham, c1915-1925; negatives of the Lanchester car; publications by and references to Lanchester, copies (and some originals) of all the patent specifications granted to the Lanchester brothers,1888-1948; the publication of the Daimler and Lanchester Owner's Club The Driving Member, volumes 1-25, 1964-1999.; other printed books, materials and manuscripts including a trilogy of works based on the Lanchester family The Lanchester Legacy (vols 1 and 3 available) by C.S.Clark and John Fletcher 1995, and 1996.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1888 Lanchester began work as Assistant Works Manager for the Forward Gas Engine Company in Saltley, Birmingham. He became Works Manager in 1889, resigning the post in 1892 to visit America. Patents taken out by Lanchester during this time remained his own property. On his return from the United States in 1893, Lanchester set up a small business in Birmingham to make dust proof bearings for cycles to his own design. The venture was unsuccessful however, and was forced to close. From 1894 he worked at the development of his first motor car assisted by his brothers. In 1899 he formed the Lanchester Engine Company, and by 1901 the first motor car was in production.

Lanchester was now able to combine his twin interests of flight and aircraft with cars and manufacturing and in 1907 and 1908 he published a two volume work on aerial flight, known as Aerial Flight. In 1908, Lanchester joined Birmingham Small Arms as a consultant engineer and technical advisor, an association with them and with Daimler Company Ltd which lasted for 28 years. From 1908 he became involved with both the motor car and the aeronautical fields at a national level giving papers at many institutions. From 1909 he was on the Advisory Committee for Aeronautics where he worked on the military uses of aircraft, resigning in 1920. From 1911 he had gradually withdraw from the day to day management of the Lanchester Engine Company and was able to take up consultancies with many other organisations. In 1925 he formed Lanchester's Laboratories Ltd to give himself better research facilities and premises to carry out his consultancy work. The company produced radios and loud speakers for sale.

In the early 1930s, Lanchester became friends with Robert Lockhart, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Birmingham, and they began some experiments on eyesight. The friendship lasted until Lanchester's death. In 1935 he became an external examiner in mechanical engineering at Birmingham University which he very much enjoyed.

In his later life, Lanchester suffered from poor health and reduced financial circumstances. He earned a living writing books and technical papers. During the build up to the Second World War he was very critical of political and military affairs. He wanted to help the war effort, and in 1941 the Society of British Aircraft constructors offered him an appointment as a consultant. Lanchester's health was worsening and by 1942 he was almost blind in one eye. Lanchester continued to publish books and papers until his death in March 1946.

Reference: John Fletcher, editor, The Lanchester Legacy: A Celebration of Genius (Coventry University Enterprises Ltd, Coventry, 1996).


Initial deposit: The papers are organised by subject groups, and within these they are in chronological order. During the 1980s publications by and references to Lanchester were added to the collection.

The later deposits are unarranged.

Conditions Governing Access

Open. Access to the Lanchester Collection is by arrangement with the University Librarian, Coventry University.

Acquisition Information

The collection was deposited in the Lanchester Library in a series of gifts and purchases from 1961.

Other Finding Aids

The initial Lanchester deposit is catalogued to item level in paper format. An item level index to parts of the Lanchester Collection exists in electronic format. Word lists indexing the Lanchester notebooks also exist in paper format. Access to the finding aids is available in the Lanchester Library.

An authority record exists for Frederick Lanchester (GB 152 AAR 1887).

Conditions Governing Use

There are no restrictions on the use of this archive, apart from the requirements of copyright law.


Further deposits are expected.

Related Material

Further papers of Frederick Lanchester are held at Birmingham Museum of Science and Industry, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, Southampton University, and the Royal Aeronautical Society. A private collection is held by Chris Clark, author of the Lanchester Legacy trilogy. Some papers remain with the Lanchester family.