Alfred Nobel: Biography and Legacy. Inventor of Dynamite and Creator of the Nobel Prize.
The renowned chemist, businessman, and inventor gave the world its most prestigious award for literature, peace, and the sciences. Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize, was a Swedish chemist and the inventor of dynamite.
Youth and Education
Alfred was born on October 21st, 1833, in Stockholm, to Immanuel and Andriette Nobel. The Nobels lost all their wealth in 1833 and moved to St. Petersburg after Immanuel became successful as a manufacturer for the Russian army. In St. Petersburg, young Alfred was taught by private tutors in the sciences and cultural subjects. He was fluent in five European languages by the time he reached 17.
Despite his literary inclinations, Alfred continued his studies in chemistry to please his father. He traveled the US and Europe and worked in the lab of a famous chemist in Paris, where he became very interested in nitroglycerine.
When Alfred returned to help with the family business, he and his father experimented with nitroglycerine. The end of the Crimean War sent the Nobel family into bankruptcy. Alfred returned to Stockholm.
In Stockholm Alfred converted nitroglycerine into a paste. His little brother, Emil, was among those tragically killed in one of Alfred’s nitroglycerine experiments, but Alfred persevered; he patented his discovery as dynamite.
He made a fortune as a producer and exporter of his new invention. Alfred continued research that might make the invention safer for people to use and still invented new products. He maintained a home in Paris but traveled frequently to his factories in over 20 countries for his business.
Throughout his life, Alfred continued to pursue his love of literature despite his derailed formal literary studies. By the time of his death, he had amassed a library of over 1,500 books. He preferred fiction and was a multi-lingual reader.
Alfred never married but may have felt romantically towards his one-time housekeeper Countess Bertha Kinsky. She married another man, but remained lifelong friends with Alfred. Her outspoken opposition of the arms race and her book, “Lay Down Your Arms”, may have influenced Alfred’s decision to create the Nobel Prize. He may have had Ms. Kinsky’s passion in mind when he created the Peace Prize.
When Alfred Nobel died in 1896 in Italy, he left a will dedicating his fortune to create a prize that promoted peace and honored scientific and cultural achievements. There were to be five prizes, one each in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Peace, and Literature. A sixth award, the Nobel Prize in Economics, was first awarded in 1969. The Nobel Prize continues to be the most widely known and prestigious award in these fields.