Goddard, Robert (Hutchings)(1882–1945) rocket and space pioneer; born in Worcester, Mass. On March 16, 1926 this maverick physicist, once described as a "Yankee inventor-tinkerer," launched the world's first liquid-fuel rocket in Auburn, Mass., and became the father of modern rocketry. Said to have been inspired by H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds, he laid the basis for his lifelong work with studies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University, where he taught (1914–27) and headed the physics department (1923). Reticent in public, his warm personal nature won him a number of backers throughout his career: the Smithsonian Institution funded his early work in solid-fuel rocketry; at Charles Lindbergh's urging, philanthropist Daniel Guggenheim funded his testing laboratory in Roswell, N.M. (1927–37); but ahead of his time in his theories and experiments, he never developed an operational rocket. As a lone engineer-experimenter unwilling to collaborate with others, he was eventually surpassed by German rocket engineers and military rocket laboratories, but he produced 214 patents crucial to rocket technology.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.