How the Nobel Peace Award Began, Who Nominates & How the Winner is Chosen 

A History of the Nobel Peace Prize & Its Winners

There were a record number of nominees for 2009’s Nobel Peace Prize. Find out how the award became so coveted, who nominates the candidates and how the winner is picked.

The Nobel Peace Prize is perhaps the most prestigious and coveted award in the world. Not only does the recipient obtain international attention for his or her good works, the winner, in recent years, is also awarded 10 million Swedish kronor, which is equivalent to more than $1 million U.S.

How the Nobel Peace Prize Started

The prize is named for Alfred Nobel, who was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 21, 1833. A chemist and industrialist, Nobel invented dynamite and amassed a personal fortune. He was also extremely interested in literature as well as social and peace-related issues.

Following his death on December 10, 1896, the contents of Alfred Nobel’s will stunned many people. He wanted his vast fortune to be used for prizes in chemistry, physics, medicine, literature and peace. With the exception of the peace prize, Nobel wanted the awards to be handled by Swedish committees. His will offered no explanation as to why he wanted the peace prize to be awarded by a Norwegian committee.

The first Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 1901. Red Cross founder Henry Dunant shared the prize with internationally-known pacifist Frédéric Passy.

The Nobel Peace Prize Though the Years

Between 1901 and 2008, 89 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded to individuals or organizations. U.S. President Barack Obama is the winner of the 90th prize.

No one received the honor during World Wars I and II. The prize was not awarded on 19 occasions: in 1914-1918, 1923, 1924, 1928, 1932, 1939-1943, 1948, 1955-1956, 1966-1967 and 1972.

The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to 96 individuals and 20 organizations. The International Committee of the Red Cross received the honor three times; the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees won the award twice.

The youngest Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to date is Mairead Corrigan, the co-founder of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement, who was 32 years old when she was awarded the prize in 1976. To date, the oldest winner was Joseph Rotblat, who was 87 when he received the award in 1995.

Who Can Be Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

In 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee received 205 nominations, a record number. The names of the nominees are kept secret for 50 years. Each September, the committee sends thousands of letters inviting qualified people to submit their nominations for the Nobel Peace Prize.

People qualified to make a nomination include:

  • members of national assemblies, governments and international courts of law
  • university chancellors, professors of social science, history, philosophy, law and theology
  • leaders of peace research institutes and institutes of foreign affairs
  • previous Nobel Peace Prize Laureates
  • board members of organizations that have received the Nobel Peace Prize
  • present and past members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee
  • former advisers of the Norwegian Nobel Institute

A person is not permitted to nominate himself. A prize cannot be awarded posthumously.

How the Nobel Peace Prize Winner is Chosen

Nominations must be submitted by February 1. Over the next couple of months, the committee evaluates the candidates’ work and creates a short list. Between March and August, the short list is reviewed by advisers who do not give overt suggestions.

At the beginning of October, the Nobel committee chooses the Nobel Peace Prize winner through a majority vote. The decision is final. The name of the Nobel Peace Prize recipient is then announced.

The winner receives the prize in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, which is the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel.

During his lifetime, Nobel was known for inventing dynamite, which is associated with death and destruction. Thanks to the fortune he earmarked for prizes more than 100 years ago, Nobel’s name is now synonymous with excellence and making the world a better place.

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