Contrary noble interests

A man of contradictions: Alfred Nobel   | Photo Credit: Pixabay

It was with a heavy heart that Alfred opened the morning paper. He turned to the Obituaries column. He wanted to read the obit of his brother Ludvig. He saw the headline and frowned. Le Marchand de la mort est mortThe merchant of death is dead. Quickly, he read it through. To his utter dismay, he found that he was reading his own obituary, not his brother’s.

A quiet, reclusive man, he immediately set about thinking how he could change his image for posterity. He hit upon an idea that forever ensured his memory as humanitarian and philanthropist.

Awarding the best

On November 27, 1895, Alfred signed his last will. When he died in 1896, his family and friends were shocked when they discovered that a bulk of his vast fortune was left in trust to establish what came to be the most highly regarded of international awards: the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology and Literature. His friendship with Austrian pacifist, Bertha von Suttner, inspired him to establish a prize for Peace.

Born on October 21, 1833, Alfred Nobel was an intellectually curious child who was interested in explosives. He learned the fundamentals of Engineering from his father, Immanuel. In 1837, Immanuel took his family to St. Petersburg, Russia leaving behind him in Sweden, a string of failed businesses. Russia proved lucky for him and soon the family prospered. Alfred went to Paris to study Chemistry and later moved to the U.S.


He returned to St. Petersburg in 1852 and worked in his father’s factory, making military equipment during the Crimean War. Later, the family returned to Sweden. Here, Alfred set up a small laboratory and began experimenting with explosives. In 1862, he built a small factory to manufacture nitroglycerin and researched a safe way to control the detonation, which at that time was undependable. By 1865, he had invented an improved detonator called a blasting cap, which was a forerunner to the modern use of high explosives. His second important invention was the dynamite in 1867. The name was derived from Greek dynamis meaning power. It was soon put to use blasting tunnels, cutting canals and building railways and roads. In 1875, he invented a more powerful form of dynamite, blasting gelatin. In 1887, he introduced ballistite, a precursor to cordite. By the 1880s he had built a network of factories throughout Europe to manufacture dynamite. In 1893, he became interested in Sweden’s arms industry and the following year bought an ironworks at Bofors, near Varmland. This became the nucleus of the Bofors arms factory.

Besides explosives, he had several other inventions, like artificial silk and leather, to his credit. In death, Alfred Nobel remains a man of contradictions. A brilliant, lonely man with incisive wit, an idealist, and inventor of some of the most powerful explosives used in warfare, he established the world’s most prestigious prizes for intellectual services rendered to humanity.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2022 11:45:22 PM |

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