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Worcester, Birthplace of the Space Age

By Barbara Berka, Goddard Memorial Association

Robert Goddard launching his rocket at Aut Effie's farm in Auburn, MARobert Hutchings Goddard is internationally recognized as the Father of the Modern Rocket. It was his many pioneering inventions that made it possible for a rocket to actually leave the earth and enter space. In all, his work led to 214 patents. His inventions eventually launched a new industry and changed the world. Any rocket launched in the world today employs many of Goddard's inventions. Because of his pioneering accomplishments, he is credited as the "Father of the Space Age."

Goddard was born in Worcester, MA on October 5, 1882 in his family's home on Maple Hill (One Tallawanda Drive). He graduated from South High School (1904). WPI (BS, 1908) and Clark University (MS, 1910, PhD, 1911). He was a professor and Chairman of the Physics Department of Clark University for many years. He died in Baltimore, MD on August 10, 1945 and is buried in the family plot at Hope Cemetery in Worcester, MA.

Robert Goddard received his first 2 of 241 patents in 1914.In 1914, Goddard was awarded his first two patents for a rocket apparatus: A Multistage Rocket and a Liquid-Fuel Gun Rocket. In 1916 Goddard proved experimentally that a rocket will provide thrust in a vacuum. In 1917 he received financial assistance ($5000) from the Smithsonian Institution. Further grants were made through 1929 and in 1932. In 1917-1918 Goddard developed the bazooka weapon on the WPI campus.

All of Goddard's early experimentation and construction of the first liquid-fuel rocket took place in Worcester. In December, 1925, during a static test in his laboratory at Clark U., a liquid-fuel rocket motor lifted its own weight (plus more!) for the first time. He successfully tested his first liquid-fuel rocket outdoors on March 16, 1926 in a field in Auburn, belonging to a distant cousin, Effie Ward. Today this field is the Pakachoag Golf Course. Goddard successfully launched four rockets on this field between 1926-1929.

In 1929, the rocket rose, flew sideways and crashed into the field, causing a spectacular noise and setting the field on fire. As a result, Goddard was no longer welcome to launch his experiments in the Commonwealth of MA. Goddard made arrangements to continue his experiments from 1929-1930 at Camp Devens, on federal land. The 1929 rocket that created havoc, resulted in headlines in major newspapers. Charles Lindbergh (solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927) recognized the significance of Goddard's work, and was able to interest the Guggenheim family in granting Goddard money so he could continue his noisy and dangerous rocket experiments elsewhere. Roswell, NM was chosen for its stable weather and wide open space. Goddard moved his crew and all his equipment and continued his work there.

Goddard's basic period of research occurred in:

  • Worcester, MA from 1914 to 1929 (1929-1930 on federal land, Camp Devens)
  • Rosewell, NM from 1930 to 1941
  • Annapolis, MD from 1942-1945

The Goddard Association's mission is to bring Honor and Recognition to Dr. Robert H. Goddard and to name Worcester, MA, "The Birthplace of the Space Age", since he was born, educated, invented many pioneering inventions in Worcester, and remains here at Hope Cemetery.

To learn more visit the Goddard Memorial Site and Monument at the corner of Goddard Memorial Drive and Apricot Street, Worcester, MA.

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