Hermann Ganswindt was born in Voigtshof, East Prussia (now part of Poland) on June 12, 1856. He attended elementary school in Seeburg and secondary schools in Rossel and Lyck, Germany. Forced by his family to be a lawyer, he was never successful and instead dreamed of being an inventor. In 1881, while still a law student, he devised the earliest known design for an interplanetary spacecraft, though he did not publish his proposal until 1890. Ganswindt suggested building a space ship powered by steel cartridges charged with dynamite in a reaction chamber. As a cartridge exploded, half of it would be ejected while the other half struck the top of the chamber to provide the reaction force. Suspended below the chamber was the inhabited part of the ship, which Ganswindt envisioned as having artificial gravity by spinning the spacecraft.
In 1891, Ganswindt took his proposal to the German War Ministry, but it was rejected and he was derided as a non-professional. He had identified much of the underlying theories used in modern space ships, but his idea was “too far in advance of his time for it to be understood.” While his proposed rocket-powered, manned space ship was revolutionary, the dynamite thrust chamber he proposed would have killed any passenger it carried and it is fortunate his rocket ship never left the design stage.
Hermann Ganswindt also invented a freewheeling device for bicycles, a horseless carriage, a motorboat, a fire engine, and airship. In June of 1901, he built and flew a rotating wing aircraft that carried two passengers on a short fifteen-second flight. This demonstrated the lifting power of a rotating blade, the principle behind the helicopter. Ganswindt also proposed space travel that would follow the path of celestial bodies such as comets to save energy; stable flight by activating the drive power before the center of gravity; and, perhaps most visionary, the concept of time as a fourth dimension.
Rejected as a mere amateur by the scientific community of his day, Hermann Ganswindt lost all his money in the aftermath of World War I and died in poverty in Berlin on October 25, 1934. Ganswindt Crater on the far side of the Moon is named for him.