Goddard was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, and became interested in space even before attending Clark University and Princeton. By 1914, he was designing rocket motors, with financial assistance from the Smithsonian Institution. By 1919, he was writing about the possibilities of moon flight.
Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket on March 16, 1926 at Auburn, Massachusetts. His journal entry of the event was notable for its laconic understatement: "The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie's farm." The rocket, about the size of a human arm, rose just 41 feet during a 2 1/2-second flight, but it was an important demonstration that liquid fuel propellants were possible.
Goddard was suspicious of others and often worked alone, which limited the ripple effect from his work. He had his reasons for being unsociable: Notably, in a retrospectively funny bit of media punditry, The New York Times lambasted Goddard's research because "everybody knows" rockets won't travel in the vacuum of space, where there's nothing to push against.
Eventually Goddard headed out to Roswell, New Mexico - long before the area became the center of the UFO craze - where he worked in near isolation for decades. Wernher Von Braun ended up doing the most to create modern rocketry, first with research in Nazi Germany and then in the United States.