Congreve Rocket

Whole Object Name

Congreve Rocket

Collection

Rockets

Description

Congreve Rockets were first used in the Napoleonic Wars. Their design was based on rockets used against the British in 1780, during the Second Anglo-Mysore War in India. They were designed by Sir William Congreve, who by 1804 had begun studying and refining captured Indian rockets at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich in London. Congreve’s earliest efforts produced an elongated, larger version of the Indian rockets, designed to be launched from ships.

Congreve Rockets were made up of an iron case containing black powder, which was similar to gun powder in that it was made from sulphur, saltpetre and charcoal – but in different quantities. The black powder would be ignited via a fuse, which would provide the propulsion for the rocket. The rockets were attached to wooden guide poles to help stabilise their flight and were launched in pairs from half troughs on simple metal A-frames. A flintlock mechanism was triggered by pulling a long cord, which would trigger two fuses; one would ignite the black powder in the iron case creating the thrust, whilst the other fuse ran around the outside of the iron casing to ignite the warhead at the top.

Perhaps the most famous use of Congreve Rockets came in 1814, when they were fired from the British ship Erebus against the Americans at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland. The use of the rockets was immortalised in Francis Scott Key’s poem ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, where he referred to the

“...rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”.

Key’s poem would go on to become the national anthem of the USA, commemorating the Congreve Rocket in American history.

Object number

2010-4
  • image Congreve Rocket - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Rocket infantry in line of march and in action - William Congreve: The details of the rocket system, London, 1814: Plate 5
  • image Congreve Rockets on display - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Congreve Rockets on display - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Congreve Rockets on display - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Congreve Rocket - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Rocket infantry in line of march and in action - William Congreve: The details of the rocket system, London, 1814: Plate 5
  • image Congreve Rockets on display - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Congreve Rockets on display - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust
  • image Congreve Rockets on display - Loaned by permission of the Royal Artillery Historical Trust

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