Born on Feb. 9, 1895, in Bozen, Austria Hungary (a town that is now known as Bolzano, Italy), Max Valier never received an advanced degree in science. He did, however, have a passion for rockets, which was made all the more fervent after he read a book by German physicist and engineer, Hermann Oberth entitled "The Rocket into Interplanetary Space". Although that book dealt with rockets to other planets, Valier developed a four-stage program that began working on static engines and moved into the development of ground-based vehicles powered by rockets.
In partnership with car company Opel (who worked with Valier as a way of gaining publicity for its regular cars), Valier built the world's first rocket-powered car. He would go on to build several more rocket cars -- one of which reached a speed of 145 miles per hour (233.4 km/h) in 1928. A year later, a sled attached to a rocket of his hit an impressive 250 miles per hour (402.3 km/h).
Valier then moved into the third stage of his plan, which was to create a rocket-assisted aircraft. This stage would prove to be the last in his research however, because on May 17, 1920, while working with a liquid oxygen-gasoline fueled rocket motor, the device exploded and a piece of shrapnel severed his aorta, causing his immediate death.