Sir William Congreve, 2nd Baronet (20 May 1772 – 16 May 1828) was an English inventor and rocket artillery pioneer distinguished for his development and deployment of Congreve rockets, and a Tory Member of Parliament (MP). The Congreve Rocket wasa British military weapon designed and developed by Sir William Congreve in 1804.
The rocket was developed by the Royal Arsenal following the experiences of the Second, Third and Fourth Mysore Wars. The wars fought between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore in India made use of rockets as a weapon. After the wars, several Mysore rockets were sent to England, and from 1801, William Congreve set on a research and development programme at the Arsenal’s laboratory. The Royal Arsenal’s first demonstration of solid fuel rockets was in 1805. The rockets were used effectively during the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812.
The Indian rocket experiences, including Munro’s book of 1789, eventually led to the Royal Arsenal beginning a military rocket R&D program in 1801. Several rocket cases were collected from Mysore and sent to Britain for analysis. The development was chiefly the work of Col. (later Sir) William Congreve, son of the Comptroller of the Royal Arsenal,Woolwich, London, who set on a vigorous research and development programme at the Arsenal’s laboratory; after development work was complete, the rockets were manufactured in quantity further north, near Waltham Abbey, Essex.
He was told that “the British at Seringapatam had suffered more from the rockets than from the shells or any other weapon used by the enemy”. “In at least one instance”, an eye-witness told Congreve, “a single rocket had killed three men and badly wounded others”. Congreve prepared a new propellant mixture, and developed a rocket motor with a strong iron tube with conical nose, weighing about 32 pounds (15 kg). Congreve published three books on rocketry.
Mysorean rockets were used against the British East India Company by the armies of Tipu Sultan and his father, Hyder Ali, rulers of the kingdom of Mysore in India, during the Battle of Pollilur in 1781. An alternative suggestion is that Congreve adapted iron-cased gunpowder rockets for use by the British military from prototypes created by the Irish nationalist Robert Emmet for use during Emmet’s Rebellion in 1803.Congreve first demonstrated solid fuel rockets at the Royal Arsenal in 1805. He considered his work sufficiently advanced to engage in two Royal Navy attacks on the French fleet at Boulogne, France, one that year and one the next.
Parliament authorized Congreve to form two rocket companies for the army in 1809. Congreve subsequently commanded one of these at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. Congreve rockets were used for the remainder of the Napoleonic Wars, as well as the War of 1812—the “rockets’ red glare” in the American national anthem describes their firing at Fort McHenry during the latter conflict. They remained in the arsenal of the United Kingdom until the 1850s. He organized the impressive firework displays in London for the peace of 1814 and for the coronation of George IV in 1821.
Besides his rockets, Congreve was a prolific (if indifferently successful) inventor for the remainder of his life. Congreve invented a gun–recoil mounting, a time–fuze, a rocket parachute attachment, a hydropneumatic canal lock and sluice (1813), a perpetual motion machine, a process of colour printing (1821) which was widely used in Germany, a new form of steam engine, and a method of consuming smoke(which was applied at the Royal Laboratory).
He also took out patents for a clock in which time was measured by a ball rolling along a zig-zag track on an inclined plane; for protecting buildings against fire; inlaying and combining metals; unforgeable bank note paper; a method of killing whales by means of rockets; improvements in the manufacture of gunpowder; stereotype plates; fireworks; and gas meters. Congreve was named as comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich from 1814 until his death.