Gerhard Zucker's mail missiles. A story about envelopes, advertisements and counterfeits

Gerhard Zucker's mail missiles. A story about envelopes, advertisements and counterfeits
Gerhard Zucker's mail missiles. A story about envelopes, advertisements and counterfeits

In February 1931, the Austrian scientist and inventor Friedrich Schmidl carried out the first launch of his mail rocket. There were hundreds of letters and postcards on board the product of the simplest design. Successful tests of the so-called. rocket mail in Austria has inspired many enthusiasts from different countries. So, in Germany, the businessman Gerhard Zucker became interested in the problem of creating new means of forwarding correspondence. Previously, he had nothing to do with the rocket industry, but his interest and desire to create something new led to very interesting results.

Until the early thirties, Gerhard Zucker had nothing to do with engineering, let alone the rocket industry. He lived in Hasselfeld (Harz region, Saxony-Anhalt) and was engaged in the manufacture and sale of dairy products. That said, it was the revenues from milk, butter and cheese that provided funding for early rocket mail projects. In 1931, the businessman learned about the successful experiments of the Austrian scientist, and wished to join the development of a promising direction.

First attempts

G. Zucker began his work in the field of rocketry with the manufacture of the simplest small rockets. The compact metal body was filled with available gunpowder, which ensured takeoff and flight along the desired trajectory. As work continued, the size and mass of such missiles grew. From a certain time, the inventor began to equip his products with payload simulators.

Gerhard Zucker's mail rockets. A story about envelopes, advertisements and counterfeits

Gerhard Zucker with a 1933 "advertising" rocket. Photo

It is known that the simplest powder rockets were used not only for testing, but also for advertising. Repeatedly G. Zucker carried out rocket launches in front of the public, telling her about his plans. He described in paints how in the future there will be larger and heavier missiles that will be able to take on board postcards, letters and even parcels or parcels, and then fly to the desired city. Advertising and test launches were carried out in different cities and towns, but until a certain time the inventor did not leave his native region.

The trials and simultaneous advertising campaign lasted for about two years. During this time, the inventor studied the necessary areas of science and technology, and also gained some experience. Now it was possible to finish assembling and launching large-scale models and move on to more serious matters. It was necessary to carry out the development of a project based on new ideas, and then build and test a full-fledged mail rocket.

Big rocket and big advertisement

In 1933, a new stage of development and promotion of the project began. G. Zucker built a new type of full-size rocket intended for demonstration in various cities. The inventor-businessman was going to carry this product across Germany and look for potential customers or sponsors. It is obvious that a full-fledged rocket, even if it does not correspond to all the declared characteristics, could become a very good advertisement.


Page from G. Zucker's diary with notes about the launch on April 9, 1933. Above - the inventor (right) and his rocket, below - the rocket at the time of launch. Photo

The first version of the full-size mail rocket had an interesting design. The rocket had a body with a tapered conical nose fairing and a smoothly tapering central section.The tail section was also made in the form of a truncated cone. In the tail were the triangular planes of the stabilizer. According to Zucker's project, wing planes were fixed on the sides of the hull, on which eight compact powder engines were installed - four on each. Four more such products were in the tail of the hull. All the rest of the inner space of the rocket could be given under the payload.

The rocket of the first version had a length of about 5 m and a maximum diameter of about 50-60 cm. The launch mass was set at 200 kg, and eight powder engines gave a total thrust of 360 kg. In fact, this product was an unguided missile capable of flying only along a ballistic trajectory and only with preliminary guidance.

To transport and launch the rocket, a towed cart with a wheel drive was created. A pair of longitudinal guides were placed on it, installed with a fixed elevation angle. For the correct descent of the rocket and some increase in the accuracy of shooting, it was proposed to cover the guides with technical grease.


The explosion of a rocket near the launcher. You can observe the spread of correspondence. Photo

In his speeches, G. Zucker argued that as a result of the further development of the existing structure, it would be possible to obtain a transport rocket that would be able to rise to an altitude of 1000 m, accelerate to a speed of 1000 m / s, deliver cargo to a distance of up to 400 km, and then return to the launch site. … A missile with such capabilities could be used as a bomber, reconnaissance aircraft or delivering various cargo such as mail. It is easy to guess that the transformation of a simple rocket with powder engines into what G. Zucker spoke about was simply impossible at that time.

At the beginning of 1933, G. Zucker began preparations for testing a new rocket. The product and the launcher were delivered to the landfill, which became the North Sea coast near Cuxhaven (Lower Saxony). The tests were scheduled for February, but they had to be postponed. During the launch to the beach, the launcher, which was not characterized by high maneuverability, got stuck in a ditch. They managed to pull it out, but the launch was postponed indefinitely and they began to wait for good weather that did not spoil the road.

On April 9 of the same year, the long-awaited launch of an experimental rocket took place. According to official data, there was a load on board the rocket in the form of a certain amount of its own "rocket mail" envelopes. In the presence of the inhabitants and leaders of Cuxhaven, the inventor gave the command to ignite the engines. The rocket with a characteristic noise came off the guides, rose to a height of 15 m and fell to the ground. When dropped, the product collapsed and exploded. The actual range was ludicrous, and the future of the project was in question. However, G. Zucker's reputation hardly suffered. He continued the advertising campaign. In addition, he began to sell envelopes with stamps that allegedly survived the death of an experimental rocket.


G. Zucker demonstrates his rocket to the Nazi leadership of Germany. Photo

After several months of advertising trips and improving the project, G. Zucker turned to the new Nazi leadership in Germany. In the winter of 1933-34, he showed officials a new version of the rocket capable of carrying different payloads. The new product differed from the unsuccessful experimental rocket in different dimensions and the absence of stabilizers. In addition, it lost its side wings: the engines were now placed only in the rear of the hull.

As the inventor later said, Nazi officials were not interested in the mail or transport missile - they were more interested in the carrier of the warhead. But G. Zucker refused to create such a modification of the rocket. As a result, the project did not receive government support, and its future became uncertain again.

British period

After several setbacks at home, Gerhard Zucker decided to leave for the UK. Perhaps this decision was related to financial problems or pressure from the new authorities. One way or another, already in May 1934, envelopes from the side of an exploded rocket became exhibits at an airmail exhibition in London. By participating in the exhibition, the inventor wanted to interest the British postal administration and get the necessary support to continue the work.


G. Zucker (left) and his colleagues preparing a rocket for launch, July 28, 1934. Photo

The government agency was not interested in the idea of ​​a rocket mail, but it attracted the attention of private individuals. Wealthy philatelist and stamp dealer K.H. Dombrowski wished to take over the financing of the project. Photographer Robert Hartman volunteered to provide advertising and press coverage. The company, consisting of an inventor, sponsor and photographer, planned to launch the operation of new mail rockets and make a lot of money from it.

However, this undertaking immediately ran into serious difficulties. G. Zucker's project envisaged the use of German-made gunpowder engines and lubricants. By that time, Germany had stopped exporting such products, and enthusiasts could not purchase them legally. To obtain the necessary materials, one would have to arrange a real espionage operation. Without access to the original components used in the first projects, the inventor was forced to use what he managed to get in the UK.

In no time, the German enthusiast produced several new prototypes of the mail rocket based on British-made materials and resources. At the same time, he had to improvise. For example, instead of inaccessible German grease, cheap butter was used on the rails. The new version of the special rocket was similar to the original one, but differed in size. The total length of the product was only 1070 mm with a case diameter of 180 mm. The powder engine had a cylindrical copper casing, covered with asbestos on the outside. When assembled, this device had a length of 55 cm and a diameter of 6 cm. After installing such an engine, there was enough space in the rocket body for the payload.


"British" rocket before launch. Photo

With the rocket, it was proposed to use the simplest launcher with a pair of parallel guides covered with improvised grease. The guides could be guided in two planes. The chassis was absent, but it was not required, since the installation was light and could be carried by hand.

On June 6, 1934, the developers of the rocket mail and journalists arrived at the test site, which became one of the hills in the south of Sussex, on the shores of the English Channel. The enthusiasts deployed the launcher and performed the first launch of the rocket without payload in the direction of the sea. Then two rockets took off, filled with envelopes and postcards with appropriate markings. The flight range of compact and light rockets with a low-power engine was in the range from 400 to 800 m. The rockets were lifted out of the water, thanks to which new goods appeared in Mr. Dombrowski's philatelic shops.

The very next day, sensational reports about the first domestic rocket mail system appeared in the British press. The news caught the attention of citizens and was probably good for sales of envelopes, postcards and stamps. However, G. Zucker and his comrades wished not only to sell philatelic materials, but also to cooperate with the state post. Wanting to interest the Royal Postal Service, they argued that future missiles of their design would be able to deliver shipments from Dover to Calais in just a minute!


One of the envelopes aboard the Scarp-Harris rocket. The Post Office has printed a small batch of special stamps (bottom left). Photo

On July 28, a demonstration of an experimental rocket took place to representatives of the postal department. The Hebrides Islands became the testing ground for new "shooting". The launch pad was organized on the shore of about. Scarp; a rocket with mail was expected on about. Harris. To solve this problem, the rocket had to fly 1600 m over the strait between the islands. A rocket similar to those tested in early June in Sussex was used. It had a length of just over a meter and was equipped with a powder engine. The free volumes of the hull were filled with "correspondence". The rocket was loaded with 1200 envelopes marked "rocket mail". An interesting fact is that all these products have already been sold out through the pre-order system. Immediately after testing, they were to go to the customers.

On command from the control panel, the rocket turned on the engine, and almost immediately after that, an explosion occurred. The rocket body collapsed and burning envelopes scattered across the beach. Some of them were saved and collected for subsequent transfer to customers.

G. Zucker considered that the cause of the start-up accident was a defective engine. It was his wrong work that led to the explosion and disruption of the demonstration tests. However, such conclusions did not affect the further fate of the project. The Royal Postal Service saw the launch failure and its results, and then abandoned possible cooperation with enthusiasts. Rocket mail in the proposed form was considered unsuitable for use in practice.

Return to Germany

The rocket explosion at the end of July caused a stir in every sense. Its most serious consequence was the investigation into G. Zucker. The German businessman was considered a threat to the security of Great Britain. In addition, he, as officials considered, posed a danger to the local postal service. The British interior authorities sent the inventor back to Germany and barred him from entering.


The result of the launch of a mail rocket on about. Scarp. Photo

At home, the unlucky designer was greeted with suspicion. German intelligence agencies suspected him of collaboration with British intelligence. The investigation did not find evidence of espionage, and G. Zucker remained at large. At the same time, he was forbidden to continue working in the field of rocketry. The Hitler regime, as it seemed then, put an end to the history of an interesting rocket mail project. Nevertheless, before the official ban appeared, the inventor managed to carry out several new launches. There are known philatelic materials dated 1935.

In 1936, G. Zucker became a defendant in a fraud case. The District Court of Hamburg found that no new launches were carried out in Germany after 1934. Collectible materials, dated April 1935, have never taken off in a rocket. They were made and immediately sent on sale - solely out of a desire to make money. According to the court's verdict, G. Zucker had to serve a sentence of one year and three months, as well as pay a fine of 500 Reichsmarks. The news rocked the German philatelic community.

A few years later, Gerhard Zucker was drafted into the army, and he went to the front. In 1944 he was seriously wounded, and after the hospital he went home to Hasselfeld. Soon after the end of the war, the businessman decided to move to Lower Saxony, which later became part of the Federal Republic of Germany. Having settled in a new place and opening a furniture store, G. Zucker again began assembling homemade rockets. It was again about compact and light vehicles for transporting small loads such as letters and postcards. From time to time, the inventor went to dedicated sites and performed launches. Some of the newer rockets carried special stamped envelopes.

In May 1964, an international convention of philatelists was held in Hanover, organized by German and French collectors' organizations.At the start of this event, it was planned to launch several mail missiles with an appropriate payload. On May 7, G. Zucker and the organizers of the congress organized a launch position on the Hasselkopf mountain near Braunlage and prepared ten missiles for launch, into which they loaded 10 thousand envelopes with special blanking. 1,500 people came to see the flights.


Unloading mail from the surviving rocket. Probably a post-war shot. Photo

The first rocket flew several tens of meters and collapsed, scattering the load over the terrain. The second exploded just 4 meters from the rail. A fragment of the hull in the form of a 40-centimeter pipe flew towards the audience, who were only 30-35 meters from the launcher. Three people were seriously injured. The event was stopped, and the program of the congress was significantly changed. One of the wounded died 11 days after the accident. A few days later the second victim passed away. The third survived, but remained disabled.

The internal affairs bodies immediately opened a case on the fact of murder and injury to health through negligence. After several months of investigation, the Prosecutor's Office of the Federal Republic of Germany dropped the charges against G. Zucker, but came up with several important initiatives. Firstly, the operation of powder rockets without a rigid attachment of the engine in the body was prohibited. There was also a requirement that spectators should not approach the launch pad closer than 400 m. Personally, the inventor was forbidden to launch any missiles from now on, since there was a gross violation during the fatal launch. In accordance with current standards, as a private person, he could build and launch products weighing up to 5 kg, and products for the congress weighed 8, 3 kg.

The tragedy at the festive event had more serious consequences. Soon, the FRG leadership adopted a new law, according to which individuals and organizations that do not have proper permission cannot assemble and launch missiles of all classes. Several children's and youth and sports and technical organizations suffered from this decision of the authorities. In addition, several rocket sports sites have been closed.


Envelope of 1935, flown on one of G. Zucker's rockets. Photo

G. Zucker no longer built or launched rockets, and also, according to some sources, stopped all theoretical research. However, this did not stop him from making money on the topic of rocket mail. In the seventies, he produced and sold a batch of philatelic materials, allegedly transported on board a mail rocket. At the same time, no rocket existed, and the envelopes and stamps were actually fake.

After being banned by the authorities, the enthusiastic inventor focused on his core business and family. He passed away in 1985. After the unification of the FRG and the GDR, the inventor's family returned to their native Hasselfeld.


After the first successful experiments of F. Schmidl, many "got sick" with the idea of ​​rocket mail and began to create their own versions of such systems. A very interesting version of the mail rocket was proposed by the German enthusiast Gerhard Zucker. At the same time, it should be noted that the history of its development is similar not only to an attempt to create a fundamentally new complex, but also to the plot of an adventure novel. From a certain point of view, the whole idea of ​​G. Zucker looks like another useless project, the purpose of which was self-promotion and earnings on a topical topic.

However, almost all missile mail projects were created at a special time, when not only scientists and designers, but also real dreamers participated in the development of technology and technology. And any crazy idea had a chance to be realized for the benefit of humanity. Unfortunately, G. Zucker's mail missiles in all their versions did not live up to the expectations of their creator; a tragedy put an end to a series of projects.

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