Robert Goddard was born on October 5th, 1882 in Worcester, MA, but
when he was one year old he moved with his family to Boston. From 1888-
1898, he attended school in Boston at Mount Pleasant, Hugh O’Brien, ;
English High schools. In 1898, Goddard moved back to Maple Hill, Worcester.
From 1899 to 1901, he was kept from school because of illness. He then went
to South High School until 1904.
On October 19, 1899, he had climbed a cherry tree to prune the dead
branches, but instead started daydreaming. Here is what he thought: “It was
one of the quiet, colorful afternoons of sheer beauty which we have in
October in New England, and as I looked toward the fields at the east, I
imagined how wonderful it would be to make some device which had even the
possibility of ascending to Mars, and how it would look on a small scale,
if sent up from the meadow at my feet.” He made October 19th his own
personal holiday, in honor of the day he first thought about what was to
become his life’s work.
Goddard attended many colleges. They were Worcester Polytechnic
Institute, which he graduated from in 1908, Clark University, where he
received his M.A. in 1910 and a Ph.D. in 1911. He was a research fellow at
Princeton in 1912 and 1913, and the following year joined the faculty at
Clark University, where he became a full professor in 1919. Despite his
scientific interests, Goddard seems to have been popular among classmates,
being elected class vice president and president and serving as editor of
the class yearbook.
In July 1914, he was awarded his first two patents: U.S. Letters
Patent #1,102,653, liquid-fuel gun rocket and U.S. Letters Patent #1,
103,503, a multistage step rocket. In 1915, he proved experimentally that a
rocket will provide thrust in a vacuum. From 1917 through 1918, Goddard
developed the basis for the rocket weapon, later known as the bazooka, done
for U.S. Army Signal Corps & Ordnance Department, in the shops at the
Worcester Polytechnic Institute, at Clark University, & later at the Mount
Wilson Observatory in California. This was demonstrated successfully at
the Aberdeen Proving Grounds on November 10, 1918, before representatives
of the armed services. He was the first to develop a rocket motor using
liquid propellants (liquid oxygen & gasoline). On June 21, 1924, Robert
Goddard married Esther Christine Kisk.
In the late 1930s, he noticed that Germany showed a lot of interest
in rocketry. In 1939 he paid a call to US army officials, and brought some
of the footage of his launches. He told the generals, “We could slant it a
little and do some damage.” The army wasn’t interested. Five years later,
the first of Germany’s V-2 rockets had blasted off and was headed for
London. By 1945, more than 1,100 V-2s had hit the city. Because he was
rebuffed by the army, Goddard spent World War II on sabbatical from
rocketry, designing airplane engines for the Navy. After the war, he went
back to his rockets. When some V-2s made their way to the US and he had a
chance to autopsy one, he immediately recognized his own creation. In that
same year, Goddard was found to have throat cancer, and before the year had
passed he was dead. The father of modern rocketry died on August 10, 1945,
four days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Japan.