Origins of the Rocket Name

Or…the Mystery of Moleskin Joe

This graphic is the first depiction of a Reading Rocket to appear in a Reading High School yearbook.  It appears in the 1946 edition of The Pioneer.

This graphic is the first depiction of a Reading Rocket to appear in a Reading High School yearbook. It appears in the 1946 edition of The Pioneer.

D-Block Journalism Students

Though the Rocket name is synonymous with Reading sports teams today, the origins of this name are something of a mystery that has to be discovered within the RMHS Pioneer yearbooks and newspapers from almost 80 years ago. 

In 2014, Reading’s Daily Times Chronicle published an article claiming the 70th anniversary of the Rocket name. The story mentions the school’s yearbook, The Pioneer, as a source for this date and cites the lyrics to the school’s fight song as a further source of the school’s nickname. The article is based on research conducted by Mr. Bill Brown, a Reading local and history enthusiast.  In the article, Mac Cerullo writes of Mr. Brown’s discovery that “the name came first into prominence in the fall of 1944.” 

Our team of journalists used the Daily Times Chronicle archive to attempt to verify the earliest found mention of the name ‘Rockets’ for a Reading High School sports team (there was a local bowling team in the 1930s!).   A review of the Reading Chronicle in September and October of 1944 yields interesting results.  The editions of Friday, September 15 and Friday, September 22 both offer previews of the football season, with the latter date marking the day before the season opener.  Neither article, however, mentions the Rocket name.   

It is on the next Friday, September 29 edition that the Chronicle’s front page includes the headline, “R.H.S. Rockets Take Opener”.  Just a week later on October 6, the sportswriter responsible for the first two game stories of 1944–who writes under the name “Moleskin Joe”–included a telling anecdote and invitation in his game notes.  He wrote, “An old pigskin enthusiast mildly questioned the fitness of the name ‘Rockets’ for our local team…We hold no brief for this tag but it still sounds good to us…On the other hand, if you know of a better bit of nomenclature for our lads, won’t you send your idea to the Editor of the Reading Chronicle…who knows we may strike something good.” It is not known whether anyone took up “Mr. Joe” on his invitation.

The 1944 RHS football team was the first local team to be called the Rockets.

A deep dive into the school’s yearbook, The Pioneer, reveals some more specifics on the origins of the Rocket name. As Mr. Brown indicated in the 2014 Chronicle article, this school nickname was mentioned in the 1945  yearbook in the football section which read, “Good Luck Rockets of 1945!” (the next football season would have been in the fall of 1945). 

The establishment of the new name in the fall of 1944 is confirmed by the class history page in the 1946 edition of The Pioneer. The class’s junior year (1944-45) history states: “The brisk weather brought out our perfectly wonderful football team under the new name of ‘The Reading Rockets.’ Naturally, we had a good share of Juniors out there fighting every inch of the way.” This is the first yearbook to refer to all men’s sports teams under the name Rockets and it features a rocket as the section header for the sports section.

The first RHS or RMHS yearbook to feature a rocket on the cover is the 1965 edition.

Though the Rocket name was clearly established in the fall of 1944, it is more difficult to determine when use of the name became widespread and common. The 1953 yearbook, for example, has only two uses of the word “rockets,” which both refer to the football team, specifically. Furthermore, the rocket imagery associated with the team was not heavily featured in the pages of The Pioneer yearbook until approximately twenty years after the name originated. Some cover designs leading up to 1965 could possibly suggest a rocket, but the first time that any rocket definitively appears on the cover of The Pioneer is on the cover of its 1965 edition, with the modern Reading Rockets logo that we know of today not appearing on a yearbook cover until 1993.

A long-time resident of Reading and RMHS alumnus of 1967–and long-time teacher and current substitute–Mr. William Carroll, recalls seeing the “1960 undefeated class B champion Reading Rocket football team.” Mr. Carrol said everyone knew who they were: “They were the Rockets, they played the [Rocket fight] song.” He agreed that the newspaper or yearbook could have definitely been the original source of the name, but it was not what made the name popular. Mr. Caroll stated, “I heard that Reading may have been called the Rockets because of the alliteration aspect of it, but I think it was off and on and wasn’t nailed until a little bit later until like I said the cold war heated up a little bit and the defense programs started preparing.” There was a Nike Missle site in Reading due to the presence of the Cold War, and he believes this played a big role–not in the name’s origin–but in the Rocket name becoming permanent.

It turns out that much can be verified about the origins of the Rocket name, but some questions do remain.  For example, while it is settled when the Rocket name was first applied to a Reading team, there remains some question about who, exactly, conceived of this name.  Was it someone within Reading High School who made the Reading Chronicle aware of the new name?  Was it Moleskin Joe, himself, who decided to start using the name Rockets?  Since Moleskin Joe directed readers to send suggestions to the Editor of the Reading Chronicle, was it that editor who invented the name? Lastly, could a playful editor have initiated the name while writing football coverage under the name Moleskin Joe?

The Orbit invites our readers to take up the mystery–just be sure to write us back with what you find!

(This article was a collaboration among seniors Amy DeMartinis, Grady Diemer, Michael Fabiano, Ian Green, Nicholas Mazzarella, Baxter McCarthy, Ashley McCue, Isabella McGonagle, Cory Wright, and teacher Mr. McSweeney)