Alfred Nobel is one of the most famous names in history, but not many people know much about his life and achievements. He was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist who made a fortune from his invention of dynamite and other explosives. He also founded the Nobel Prizes, which are awarded annually to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to humanity in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace, and economics.
In this article, we will explore the fascinating story of Alfred Nobel, from his humble beginnings to his legacy of honoring excellence and promoting peace.
Early Life and Education
Alfred Nobel was born on October 21, 1833, in Stockholm, Sweden. His father was Immanuel Nobel, a successful engineer and inventor who specialized in building bridges and canals. His mother was Andriette Ahlsell, a descendant of wealthy merchants. Alfred had three brothers: Robert, Ludvig, and Emil.
When Alfred was nine years old, his father moved the family to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he had secured a lucrative contract to build weapons for the Russian Tsar. There, Alfred received a private education from tutors who taught him several languages, including Swedish, Russian, French, English, and German. He also developed an interest in chemistry and physics, and experimented with explosives in his father’s laboratory.
Alfred returned to Sweden in 1852 and joined his father’s business, which was struggling financially due to the end of the Crimean War. He continued to work on nitroglycerin, but faced many challenges and accidents. In 1864, a massive explosion at his factory in Stockholm killed five people, including his younger brother Emil. The tragedy deeply affected Alfred and motivated him to find a solution.
In 1867, after years of trial and error, Alfred finally succeeded in inventing dynamite, a mixture of nitroglycerin and a porous substance called kieselguhr that made it stable and easy to handle. He patented his invention in several countries and soon established factories across Europe and America. Dynamite revolutionized the fields of mining, construction, and warfare, and made Alfred extremely wealthy and famous.
However, Alfred also faced criticism and controversy for his invention. Some people denounced him as a “merchant of death” who profited from violence and destruction. Others accused him of stealing or infringing on other inventors’ patents. Alfred defended himself by saying that he hoped his invention would deter wars by making them too devastating. He also claimed that he was only interested in the scientific aspect of his work and not the political or moral implications.
Alfred never married or had children. He lived a nomadic and solitary life, traveling frequently between his various residences and factories. He suffered from poor health and chronic pain due to his exposure to nitroglycerin. He also became increasingly disillusioned with humanity and pessimistic about the future.
In 1895, Alfred wrote his last will and testament in Paris. He surprised everyone by leaving most of his fortune (about $250 million in today’s money) to establish a fund for awarding prizes to those who have “conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” in five categories: physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology,
and peace. He also added a sixth category for economics in 1968. He appointed four institutions in Sweden and one in Norway to select the laureates each year.
Alfred died on December 10
in San Remo
at the age of 63. His will was contested by some of his relatives
but eventually upheld by the courts. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901