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MAY 20th  

On this day in history in 1772, was born William Congreve.

Congreve was a lawyer, politician and scientist who invented the rocket. 

Congreve was born on May 20th 1772 in Kent, the son of General William Congreve, comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich. He was educated at Singlewell School and Trinity College, Cambridge. His early career was devoted to the study of law, writing political journals and assisting his father at the Royal Laboratory.  

In 1804, he learned of a primitive gunpowder device that was used against British troops, by the Indian warlord Hyder Ali, and was inspired to construct a superior appliance for the British military. In 1805, he was able to demonstrate to the Prime Minister, Pitt the Younger, a rocket, 40 inches long, with a stabilising stick, 16 feet long, and a range of 6,000 feet. Congreveís rockets were used effectively by the Royal Navy in bombardments of Boulogne, Copenhagen and Danzig, during the Napoleonic Wars and by the British army at the battle of Leipzig of 1813. They were also used in the British attack on Fort McHenry, Baltimore during the War of 1812. This attack on the Americans, moved Francis Scott Key, in writing The Star Spangled Banner, to include the line Ďthe rocketsí red glare, the bombs bursting in airí.  

Congreveís was honoured by the Prince Regent, with the rank of Lieutenant General in the Hanoverian army. In 1814, he succeeded to his fatherís position at the Royal Laboratory where he continued research on his rockets, making considerable advances in improving range and accuracy. After hostilities ceased in 1815, Congreve attempted further inventions, some more successful than others. He suggested armour plating for warships but could not find a successful method of applying the plates to the vesselís sides. He invented a gun-recoil mounting, a time fuse, a colour printing process and forgery proof banknote paper. He attempted to build a perpetual motion machine, which worked, or rather failed to work, by using capillary action to raise water above its own level and produce a continual overflow.  

Congreve served as Member of Parliament, first for Gatton and then for Plymouth. At the Coronation of George IV, he organised a gigantic fireworks display, although not including his own rockets. In 1825, he became involved in an attempt to form a gas company, and when on a commercial visit to Toulouse, in 1828, attempting to obtain French investment funds, he died of a stroke, aged fifty-five.

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