Skip to main content

Full text of "A brief history of the rocket."

See other formats



The Inventors, scientists and engineers, who de- 
velop Ideas, seldom have control over the nature of their de- 
velopment. Alfred Nobel lived to see the explosive he had 
discovered to aid man, come close to deatroulng him. The 
pioneers of the automobile were not thiklng of Tiger Tanks-; 
the Wright brothers were not thinking of the B-29, The in- 
ventions- of a peacetime world have startling appllcatlons- 
In a world at war. In this manner the rocket was developed.- 

The rocket was invented about 1000 years ago by 
the Chinese. It started as a plaything for the Khan and his 
family, being used much as the skyrocket is on the fourth of 
July, It didn't take the Chinese long to catch on thougli. 
Soon the rocket was being used against the Mongol Invaders 
from the north. The rocket was attached to an arrow and shot 
from a bow. The arrow with rocket attached acted much as the 
fire -arrow of the American Indian, It was not a particularly 
successful weapon. Not nearly as successful as it was spec- 
tacular. This spectacularness led to its Introduction into 
European civilization. The exact method by which the idea 
reached Europe is not known, but by 1400 It had arrived. The 
military Implications were seen at once. A German engineer, 
Konrad von Eichstadt, gives us the first ura'itten description 


of the rocket In his book, "Belllfortis" , written in 1405, 
About fifteen years later an Italian, Joanea de Pontana pro- 
posed many military applications of the rocket, among which 
were rockets disguised as' running hares, and birds in flight. 
Very little was actually done with the rocket as a weapon at 
this time. It returned to its former use as an amusement, 

The rocket remained a toy for almost four-hundred 
years. But fate brought it out of retirement. The British, 
in their three cornered struggle with the French and the 
natives for possesion of India, came upon the rocket used, once 
more, as a weapon of war. The rocket had come to India di- 
rectly from China, In India, as In the rest of the world, 
it had been used as an amusement. About 1700, an Indian po^ 
tent ate, Hydar All, Prince of Mysor, saw the possibilities of 
the rocket as a weapon. He organized a rocket corp in his 
army which grew to about 5000 men. They used rockets- against 
the British, but without great success. The rocket was effec- 
tive to a small degree and because of this and the greBt a- 
mo\int of noise and smoke it gave off, it attracted the at- 
tention of the British, Various experiments were carried 
out on the rocket. The principal investigator was 
Sir William Congreve, He developed the rocket more in the 
span of his life than had all the men previous to him. 


He changed the case from paper to metalj: he enlarged the charge 
and increased the range;: he made the rocket, for the first 
time, an effective weapon of war.. After a couple of incon- 
cl-uslve trials, came the rockets first great success. In 
1807, a British fleet discharged 25,000 rockets at the city 
of Copenhagen, Denmark, and burnt it to the groxmd. The na- 
tions of Europe frantically rushed rocket research, and by 
1820, every country in Europe had a rocket corps. Rockets 
were used with varying success all over the world. The 
"rockets red glare, the bombs bursting in air" were Congreve 
rockets. Because of their inaccuracy, and because of the 
constant improvement of the cannon, the rocket corps were 
short lived. By 1870 the rocket was once more a toy, a fourth 
of July firework. 

Rocketry was once again dormant, but not for long. 
The first stirrings of awakening came when, in 1903, a Rus- 
sian, Ziolkohvsky, suggested that rockets v;ere the only means 
of solution to the problem of inter-planetary travelling. 
Nothing much was done on this idea until the 1920 'a. About 
1920, three men; Dr. R.H. Goddard of America, Ronert Esnault- 
Pelterie of Prance, and Proffessor Hermann Oberth of Germany;- 
unknown to each other, started the revival of the rocket. All 
were interested in it as a means of inter-planetary travel,. 


In 1927, the "Verein fur Raumschlffart E. V." { Society for 
Space Navigation ) was formed In Breslau. The society Includ- 
ed most of the German enthusiasts.. The society built a series 
of small rockets, trying to build a succesful rocket motor. 
Liquid fuel was introduced instead of the solid fuel of all 
previous rockets. Other societies sprang up all over the 
world, but none as active as the German one. Research went on 
all over the world. In 1934, the German society was brought 
to an abrubt end. At the order of Adolph Hitler, the society 
was disbanded and the members put to work designing rockets 
for war. The "fruits" of their labor can be seen in the many 
German rocket weapons j the nebelwarfer, a six barreled rocket 
mortar, the rocket-armed and rocket-propelled fighter planes, 
etc. The V-2 la merely an enlarged and Improved version of 
the small German rocket ship. 

Whether the rocket remains a weapon after this 
war, or whether they return to the fourth of July state again, 
is a moot point j; but of one thing history assures us, in the 
next war, or the one after it, the rocket will be back. 
Developed in peace to aid man, it will help to destroy him. 



CI eat or, P, E, "Rockets Through Space." 
New York J Simon & Schuster. 1956. 

Ley, W, "Shells and Shooting." 
New York; Modern Age Books, 1942