Industrialist With a Conscience

Alfred Nobel (1833 - 1896) - Chemist, Inventor, and Engineer , and Founder of The Nobel Peace Prize.

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833. It was he who founded the Nobel Prizes – the most prestigious award attainable in human achievement.

Alfred Nobel was born into a good family and had a good education in his youth. He studied literature with a passion, but his father wanted his son to do something more practical, and sent him away to study chemical engineering abroad. In this area, Nobel soon became fascinated with nitro-glycerine, and extremely volatile and explosive liquid.

In the 1860s, after finishing his research in the area of explosives, he returned to Sweden, and began to develop nitro-glycerine. This was extremely dangerous at the time, and an explosion occurred at a factory he built in 1864 and killed several people, including his brother. The Swedish authorities then prohibited the production of nitro-glycerine within the Stockholm city limits, forcing Nobel to work elsewhere. He did so on a barge, but the awkwardness of the working space did not stop Nobel, and indeed, in 1867, he succeeded in producing dynamite in the form of a paste mixture of nitro-glycerine and silica. He also invented the blasting cap to aid detonation, and the smokeless gunpowder, ballistite. These inventions may have brought wealth and fortune to Nobel, but they were quickly used by countries around the world as weapons of mass destruction.

Towards the end of Nobel’s life, he had amassed a huge amount of money. He also bitterly rued the fact that dynamite was being used in such a cruel way. In his will, he dedicated his entire wealth and fortune to those who had "conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". This was how the Nobel Prizes started. And in 1901, five years after Nobel’s death, the first 5 prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology and medicine, peace, and literature were awarded. The sixth category, economics, was founded in 1969.

It seems paradoxical that someone who has given his name to the most honourable peace prize would be the one who had spent a significant part of his life studying explosives and had invented dynamite. But then again, if Nobel hadn’t invented dynamite, the Nobel Peace Prize probably wouldn’t exist…

Improved explosive compound: dynamite—Accidents in the manufacturing and handling of nitroglycerin made Nobel aware of its danger in the fluid state. After much experimenting, he invented dynamite in 1866—nitroglycerine absorbed by a very porous dynamite clay. Easily handled, solid, and malleable, nitroglycerine was transformed into a useful explosive making mining, railroad building, and other construction safer, more efficient, and cheaper. Upon his death, he willed the bulk of his fortune to a foundation that would award prizes annually for advancements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. (1998)

Died: 1896

Alfred B. Nobel (1833–1896), the Swedish chemist and engineer who invented dynamite, left $9 million in his will to establish the Nobel Prizes, which are awarded annually, without regard to nationality, in six areas (peace, literature, physics,chemistry, physiology or medicine, and economic science) "to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."

At first glance, it seems odd that the inventor of a powerful explosive would endow a group of awards that includes a peace prize. But Nobel was an industrialist with a conscience. He is credited with creating a controllable combustible that made blasting rock and the construction of canals and tunnels a relatively safe process. Nobel also contributed to the inventions of synthetic rubber, artificial silk, and synthetic leather. He held more than 350 patents. His interests were not limited to science. In fact, he was a lover of English literature and poetry and wrote several novels and poems. At his death, he left a library of more than 1,500 books, from fiction to philosophy.

Family Members Contest Last Wishes

Family members were shocked when they learned that Nobel had dictated that his fortune be used to establish the Nobel Prizes. They contested his will, but his final wishes were executed and the first awards were distributed in 1901, on the fifth anniversary of his death. The prize in economics, however, was established in 1968 by Riksbank, the Swedish bank, in honor of its 300th anniversary. Stockholm's Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences administers the award in physics and chemistry, the Royal Caroline Medical Institute awards the prize in physiology or medicine, and the Swedish Academy oversees the prize in literature. The Norwegian Storting, or parliament, awards the peace prize.



Alfred Nobel ( 1833 - 1896 )

Engineer, Industrialist and Inventor, Held 355 Patents,

Founder of The Nobel Peace Prize