Gerhard Zucker (1908 – 1 January 1985) was born in Hasselfelde, Sachsen-Anhalt, and was a rocket engineer who came to Scotland in 1934 to carry out a demonstration of the use of rockets to carry mail.
Described variously as a German rocket enthusiast, businessman and fraudster, Zucker toured Germany and the UK between 1931 and 1934 with bogus 'operational' and postal rockets. None of his proposals proved to be operational in reality, ranging from outright fraud to total failure.
Zucker continued his rocket experiments until an accident during a rocket demonstration on the Hasselkopf Mountain near Braunlage resulted in the deaths of three people on 7 May 7 1964. This incident led to a ban on civilian rocket research in West Germany. Various online accounts claim one death, a student, and also three, but none seen so far have cited any source for their reported figures, so the number is uncertain.
Western Isle rocket demonstration failure
Zucker arranged a demonstration of his supposedly 'operational' rocket delivery system, to show how this could be used to provide a postal service between islands.
While he claimed his rockets were highly sophisticated missiles, they were in reality little more than powder/propellant packed fuselages, or big fireowrks.
The demonstration was a failure.
Zucker announced a demonstration firing of his rocket over 1600 m of water between the town of Harris and the Isle of Scarp. This smaller model airframe was 1.07 m long with a diameter of 18 cm. The solid fuel cartridge (a copper shell with asbestos lining) fixed inside was 55 cm long and 6 cm in diameter. The rest of the fuselage was packed with 1,200 pre-sold 'highly profitable mail covers'. Government officials watched on 31 July 1934 as the rocket exploded, blowing the burning payload all over the beach. Zucker diagnosed the cause as incorrect packing of the powder cartridges. The singed envelopes that were recovered only seemed to have a greater cache with collectors.
After this failure, the British found Zucker to be a 'threat to the income of the Post Office and the security of the country'. He was deported to Germany and promptly arrested by the Germans on suspicion of espionage or collaboration with the British. He managed to avoid arrest and commitment to an asylum but was forbidden to make further rocket experiments.
During World War II he served in the Luftwaffe and was invalided out in 1944.
He returned to his home in Hasselfelde, an area which came to lie just within the Russian zone of occupation, but Zucker managed to move a few kilometres and into the West German side of the border, where he became a furniture dealer and resumed rocket experiments.
A film based on Zucker's attempts with mail rockets at Scarp was made 2004, called The Rocket Post, with Ulrich Thomsen playing the part of Zucker.
National Theatre of Scotland takes Zucker story on stage
At the start of 2017, the National Theatre of Scotland announce it would be bringing the bizarre true-life story of Zucker and his ill-fated attempts to launch a rocket-based postal service in the Western Isles in 1934 to the stage.
Rocket Post, aimed at children and families, was billed by NTS as "equal parts play, gig and hoedown". The show premiered at the An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway in September before embarking on a nationwide tour.
3 ⇑ Rocket Post scientist whose dreams fell apart above the Western Isles to inspire new stage play - The Scotsman Retrieved January 20, 2017.
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