A retrospective: Alfred Nobel

Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden on 21st October, 1833. At the age of four years old, and his father unable to profit from business, they moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, where he found work manufacturing explosives. Alfred was sent to private tutors in Russia and became fluent in multiple languages, including English, Russian, German and French.

At the age of 18 he studied chemistry at university in Paris, and after a year he returned to Russia to work in the explosive factory, but after the Crimean war ended the company closed its doors and the Nobel family relocated back to Sweden. The family set up an explosive factory in the estate, but tragedy struck and it exploded killing five people. He then spent his time constructing a much safer explosive which he named dynamite (Greek ‘dynamis‘, meaning ‘power’) which contained nitroglycerin, and he designed a detonator called a blasting cap. He soon filed patents for it in the U.K. and the U.S.A and his fame escalated.

He created a network of factories manufacturing dynamite and he continued designing safer explosive and filing patents, and with it came enormous wealth. As he continued filing patents, 350 in total in numerous countries, he remained a pacifist despite creating weapons. He did it in the hope of preventing war, but he was far from naive and remained sceptical of human nature.

As he grew older he suffered from bouts of depression, never married and became extremely enigmatic. In 1995 he wanted to leave a distinguished legacy and in his will he submitted the majority of his fortune1,687,837 GBP) establishing the Nobel Peace Prize, after his brother Ludvig had died and Alfred’s obituary had been published by mistake. It read:

Le marchand de la mort est mort (‘The merchant of death is dead’)”

The Nobel Prize was first awarded in 1901, five years after his death and contained five categories. Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine.

“The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”  (Excerpt from the will of Alfred Nobel)

On December 10, 1896, Alfred died of a stroke in Sanremo, Italy, at just 63 years old.