Robert H. Goddard's WPI Years

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Some of Robert Goddard's earliest experiments with rockets occurred in the basement of WPI's Salisbury Laboratories, where, as an undergraduate, he measured the thrust of skyrockets. Read more fun facts...

In 1904, a young man from Worcester enrolled at WPI and elected the relatively new general science major. He was older than his classmates, having missed several years of school due to illness. Over the next four years, he would prove to be a natural leader, a gregarious and popular student, and a budding scientist with an inexhaustible thirst for knowledge and a tendency to pepper his professors with endless questions.

Before his graduation on June 11, 1908—100 years ago— this remarkable student also took substantial steps toward becoming the inventive genius he is recognized as today. For an English assignment, he envisioned a train that would travel from Boston to New York in 10 minutes through an evacuated tube. He invented (and described for Scientific American readers) a means of stabilizing airplanes with gyroscopes. For his senior thesis, he explored electrical properties of powders, research with important implications for the development of radio.

But most important, he filled notebooks with questions, speculations, and ideas about the potential for conquering space. Inspired by the novels of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, and remembering a vision he'd had as a teenager of a vehicle capable of rising from the ground and traveling to Mars, he began a quest to develop a means to escape Earth’s gravity. That quest would lead, less than two decades after his WPI graduation, to the launch of the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket—the enabling technology of the Space Age.

That student was Robert Hutchings Goddard, today known as the father of modern rocketry. This site looks back at Goddard’s formative years on the WPI campus. As the university community celebrates the centennial of Goddard’s WPI graduation, this site provides some clues about the young Robert Goddard: what kind of student was he, what did his fellow students think of him, what did he accomplish, and how did his student experience shape the pioneer he was to become?

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