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Kallie Szczepanski

Tipu Sultan's Rockets' Red Glare

By February 20, 2013

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Rockets fired from a ship, 1625

Every American schoolchild learns that the lyrics to our national anthem, the "Star-Spangled Banner," were written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812. It's a rather martial song: "And the rockets' red glare / The bombs bursting in air..." But likely very few people realize that those British rockets raining down on Fort McHenry were actually taken from an Indian design.

During the Anglo-Mysore Wars of the late 1700s, Tipu Sultan, the sultan of Mysore, used rockets fired from iron tubes to great effect against the British troops. One British officer reported: "So pestered were we with the rocket boys that there was no moving without danger." When the British defeated and killed Tipu Sultan in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War of 1798-99, they captured some of the rockets and took them back to England.

There, at the Royal Woolwich Arsenal, a team under William Congreve experimented with the rockets from India, modifying the design. The British military used the resulting Congreve Rockets in the Napoleonic Wars - and also against Fort McHenry, in the War of 1812.

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