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Rockets History

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William Congreve Brings Rocketry Success to Britain
William Congreve's Rocket - History of Rockets

William Congreve's Rocket

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On hearing of this defeat, British artillery colonel, William Congreve made the rounds of all the fireworks factories in London, ordering their largest rockets. By 1805 he had made some radical new rocket designs, including some that could carry 6 pound lead balls over 6000 feet and others with explosive nosecones. The British had great success with these rockets at Boulogne, France and Copenhagen, Denmark.

During the War of 1812 against the United States, the British again employed rockets, but with less affect. In 1814, hundreds of rockets were used against Fort Henry in Baltimore, Maryland, but when dawn broke, the fort had still refused to surrender. This famous battle was the inspiration for Frances Scott Key’s poem, "The Star Spangled Banner."

In 1844, British engineer, William Hale, patented a "rotary rocket," that was angled to give the rocket a spin, similar to rifled bullets. Unfortunately, the military was more impressed with improvements in standard artillery. Even though the British used rescue rockets to send ropes to people on sinking ships, and whalers used rockets to launch harpoons, there were few enhancements to rockets for warfare until the early days of WWII.

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