In Europe, during the interwar period, he was recognized as an aerospace pioneer, a futuristic architect and a global economy visionary. Pedro Paulet was a versatile wise man, like Renaissance men. He turned down a millionaire offer from Henry Ford and another from the German army to build their missiles. Due to his idealism, his name fell into oblivion, even in his own country, Peru. Today, one of his compatriots reconstructs his life and next September he will go to an Astronautical Congress in Praga to explain why Paulet deserves, as other space trip pioneers, his name to be on the Moon and more. He is preparing a book and a movie about Paulet.
© By: Álvaro Mejía S.
SPACE AGE PIONEER
It was July, 1927. The scientists Hermann Oberth and Max Valier headed the German Astronautics Society (Verein für Raumschiffahrt or VfR) foundation. They were looking for building a liquid fuel engine, light enough to allow a manned spacecraft travel to the space. The surprise was big when, three months later, a Peruvian scientist, in a letter to a newspaper of his country, stated that, since three decades ago, he had the design of a spacecraft that worked with engines similar to the one they were looking for.
Pedro Paulet (1874-1945) was born in Arequipa, a Peruvian Southern Andean city. A French priest educated him loving God and his country. In adolescence, he visited the important astronomical observatory that Harvard University installed in Arequipa. At 20 years old, with the assignment of getting back and modernizing his country, he was awarded by his government with a scholarship to study engineering and architecture in France while Jules Verne was over the hill. In Paris, in 1897, he made work the reaction engine with fuel based on melinite –explosive discovered by Eugene Turpin and which Verne talks about in one of his novels, Facing the Flag–. In 1902, Georges Méliès released A Trip to the Moon and Paulet designed the Torpedo Airplane, reusable aircraft that would use a pivoting delta wing with engines- rocket on the base.
In 1904, he returned to Peru but he was not well received. His Germanic character contradicted Peruvian’s, supporters of French culture, which predominated since mid-19th century. His education in Europe had convinced him that French technical education should have been replaced by the German to modernize Peru. The French Military Mission in Peru disapproved of him. He wanted to build a craft, the French suggested importing airplanes from France.
At the end, another Peruvian, Jorge Chávez, was the first man in the world who flew over the Alps in an airplane (1910). Peru preferred then the airplane rather than the jet. The propeller instead of the reaction engine. Paulet went to live to Europe. In 1927, the German Astronautics Society was founded and he, being Consul in Rotterdam, gave technical details of his engine and his craft, putting them at the disposal of Peru. Once more he was ignored.
His letter however was translated into many languages. In 1928, a book of Max Valier and other German publications gave him the title of precursor of the space age, while he met other scientists of the VfR during the celebrations of the centenary of the Geographical Society of Berlin. By those days, Valier and the Baron Fritz von Opel made a demonstration of racing cars with gunpowder rockets. They were astonished by Paulet’s liquid fuel engine.
Later, according to the magazine Science et Vie (August, 1931), Oberth and Opel -far from Valier- tried unsuccessfully to put into practice the Peruvian's studies. However, Valier, the most ardent supporter of Paulet, was the first in building an engine with those features –although he died in 1930, trying to finish it-. Nevertheless, 1931 was the takeoff year. Johannes Winkler, president of the VfR and editor of its bulletin, launch the first rocket with an engine like Paulet’s. And, Arthur Rudolph, Valier’s assistant at his death, finished the engine.
It is said that Paulet turned down the offer from Henry Ford, a character close to the VfR, to use his engine in racing cars and becoming American; and also a German army offer to use his engine in missiles. Did it have to do with the fact that Valier looked for Hitler in 1929 and asked him to finance his project? Valier’s death anyway thwarted the plan. A VfR member since 1929, Wernher von Braun, would be years later the builder of the missiles with that engine, for what he recruited Rudolph and others in his team. The V2 devastated Europe in WWII.
Paulet wanted, on the other hand, to go to the space with a Peruvian craft. In 1928, after expressing his wish of putting an end to the French Military Mission stay in Peru, he suggested the immigration of German scientists, the most capable of cooperating with him in the Torpedo Airplane building. Neither, was he heard.
ARCHITECT OF THE FUTURE
He developed many architectural projects. The most outstanding is the chapel of Goyeneche Hospital, in Arequipa, his city. Someone described it as a delicate jewel, a small Sistine Chapel. However, the most ambitious project was one of 1933. It would have turned Peru into a science fiction country.
It had three parts: a lake for seaplanes in Lima; next to it, a Basilica to Saint Rose of Lima, Patron Saint of the Americas and the Philippines –which was planned to become the biggest landmark in the world to be seen from the air, sea and land, like the Statue of Liberty-; and three roads: one towards the port to welcome the immigrants, another towards Cusco and the last one to get into the Amazon, which would make the Interoceanic Highway come true.
The last one would be used by European colonists to settle in Peruvian jungle, for what he had designed modern skyscrapers which should have met all their inhabitant’s needs: “the city contained in a huge Tower of Babel that Pedro Paulet planned in the middle of the Amazonian forests", according to the French lawyer and journalist Georges Benoît-Lévy (magazine L’Ilustration, 1929). These skyscrapers should have been built each 100 000 kilometers towards the Amazon and it is even believed that towards Argentina, too.
GLOBAL ECONOMY VISIONARY
We have to say that all the abovementioned were just parts of Paulet’s project: turn Peru into a developed country. Still without the economist degree, he performed as if he were the best, as testifies Alfred Weiler (Annales de Géographie, 1932): “A very important report about sir Pedro Paulet, General Consul of Peru in Rotterdam, about “tourism importance in the international balance of trade” have drawn the attention of the economists on a subject fairly studied in France”.
Just in 1932, Paulet left Europe and established as a Consul in the port of Yokohama, Japan. After being three years there, he published in 1935 “Modern Japan and its economics basis”. This book would anticipate what are current Japanese economy and trade relations among the countries of the Pacific Basin. The Japanese Emperor honored him with the Imperial Sword.
The last stage of his life was in Argentina. Established in Peru since 1935, Paulet wrote in 1940 an article where he strayed from Nazism but restated that Germany was a role model because it had been rebuilt more than once without money. He also stated that the ideal partner for Peru should be Argentina, where industrialization was taking place. In 1941, he went there as a diplomatic and founded the Peruvian-Argentinean Chamber of Commerce.
Paulet was actually trying to show a kind of South American Union. One of the integration routes would have been the railroad in the Buenos Aires–Lima path, an old Inca road forgotten during Colonialism and which connected a great part of South America (Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, and it is said that it had an exit to the Atlantic through Uruguay). It is the route that can be seen in the film Motorcycle Diaries and that Paulet knew since his childhood in Arequipa.
They were tumultuous times in Argentina. In 1943, a military dictatorship, from where the character of Juan Domingo Perón would emerge, was established. A thorough study on Paulet’s activities in Argentina is needed. For example, what his viewpoint was towards the nuclear tests of those days, subject that he knew as he proved it through his letter from 1927. He died in January 1945, in Buenos Aires. Months later, Von Braun went as a prisoner to the United States, and then became director of the NASA. In 1966, he couldn’t fail to mention Paulet in his book History of Rocket & Space Travel. However, in 1969, when the Man stepped on the Moon, few people remembered him.