|Born||Alfred Bernhard Nobel
21 October 1833
|Died||10 December 1896
|Norra begravningsplatsen, Stockholm
|Occupation||Chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and inventor|
|Known for||Invention of dynamite, Nobel Prize|
He was the inventor of dynamite. Nobel also owned Bofors, which he had redirected from its previous role as primarily an iron and steel producer to a major manufacturer of cannon and other armaments. Nobel held 350 different patents, dynamite being the most famous. His fortune was used posthumously to institute the Nobel Prizes. The synthetic element nobelium was named after him. His name also survives in modern-day companies such as Dynamit Nobel and AkzoNobel, which are descendants of or mergers with companies Nobel himself established.
Life and career
Born in Stockholm, Alfred Nobel was the fourth son of Immanuel Nobel (1801–1872), an inventor and engineer, and Karolina Andriette (Ahlsell) Nobel (1805–1889). The couple married in 1827 and had eight children. The family was impoverished, and only Alfred and his three brothers survived past childhood. Through his father, Alfred Nobel was a descendant of the Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck (1630–1702), and in his turn the boy was interested in engineering, particularly explosives, learning the basic principles from his father at a young age. His interest in technology was inherited from his father, an alumnus of Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Following various business failures, Nobel's father moved to Saint Petersburg in 1837 and grew successful there as a manufacturer of machine tools and explosives. He invented modern plywood and started work on the "torpedo". In 1842, the family joined him in the city. Now prosperous, his parents were able to send Nobel to private tutors and the boy excelled in his studies, particularly in chemistry and languages, achieving fluency in English, French, German, and Russian. For 18 months, during 1841–1842, Nobel went to the only school he ever attended as a child, the Jacobs Apologistic School in Stockholm.
As a young man, Nobel studied with chemist Nikolai Zinin; then, in 1850, went to Paris to further the work; and, at 18, he went to the United States for four years to study chemistry, collaborating for a short period under inventor John Ericsson, who designed the American Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. Nobel filed his first patent, for a gas meter, in 1857.
The family factory produced armaments for the Crimean War (1853–1856); but, had difficulty switching back to regular domestic production when the fighting ended and they filed for bankruptcy. In 1859, Nobel's father left his factory in the care of the second son, Ludvig Nobel (1831–1888), who greatly improved the business. Nobel and his parents returned to Sweden from Russia and Nobel devoted himself to the study of explosives, and especially to the safe manufacture and use of nitroglycerine (discovered in 1847 by Ascanio Sobrero, one of his fellow students under Théophile-Jules Pelouze at the University of Turin). Nobel invented a detonator in 1863; and, in 1865, he designed the blasting cap.
On 3 September 1864, a shed, used for the preparation of nitroglycerin, exploded at the factory in Heleneborg Stockholm, killing five people, including Nobel's younger brother Emil. Dogged by more minor accidents but unfazed, Nobel went on to build further factories, focusing on improving the stability of the explosives he was developing. Nobel invented dynamite in 1867, a substance easier and safer to handle than the more unstable nitroglycerin. Dynamite was patented in the US and the UK and was used extensively in mining and the building of transport networks internationally. In 1875 Nobel invented gelignite, more stable and powerful than dynamite, and in 1887 patented ballistite, a forerunner of cordite.
Nobel was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1884, the same institution that would later select laureates for two of the Nobel prizes, and he received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1893.
Nobel's brothers Ludvig and Robert exploited oilfields along the Caspian Sea and became hugely rich in their own right. Nobel invested in these and amassed great wealth through the development of these new oil regions. During his life Nobel issued 350 patents internationally and by his death had established 90 armaments factories, despite his belief in pacifism.
In 1888, the death of his brother Ludvig caused several newspapers to publish obituaries of Alfred in error. A French obituary stated "Le marchand de la mort est mort" ("The merchant of death is dead").
In 1891, following the death of his mother and his brother Ludvig and the end of a longstanding relationship, Nobel moved from Paris to San Remo, Italy. Suffering from angina, Nobel died at home, of a cerebral haemorrhage in 1896. Unbeknownst to his family, friends or colleagues, he had left most of his wealth in trust, in order to fund the awards that would become known as the Nobel Prizes. He is buried in Norra begravningsplatsen in Stockholm.
Through baptism and confirmation Alfred Nobel was Lutheran and during his Paris years he frequented regularly the Church of Sweden Abroad led by pastor Nathan Söderblom who would in 1930 also be the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Nobel travelled for much of his business life, maintaining companies in various countries in Europe and North America and keeping a permanent home in Paris from 1873 to 1891. He remained a solitary character, given to periods of depression.  Though Nobel remained unmarried, his biographers note that he had at least three loves. Nobel's first love was in Russia with a girl named Alexandra, who rejected his proposal. In 1876 Austro-Bohemian Countess Bertha Kinsky became Alfred Nobel's secretary. But after only a brief stay she left him to marry her previous lover, Baron Arthur Gundaccar von Suttner. Though her personal contact with Alfred Nobel had been brief, she corresponded with him until his death in 1896, and it is believed that she was a major influence in his decision to include a peace prize among those prizes provided in his will. Bertha von Suttner was awarded the 1905 Nobel Peace prize, 'for her sincere peace activities'.
Nobel's third and longest-lasting relationship was with Sofie Hess from Vienna, whom he met in 1876. The liaison lasted for 18 years. After his death, according to his biographers Evlanoff, Fluor, and Fant, Nobel's letters were locked within the Nobel Institute in Stockholm. They were released only in 1955, to be included with other biographical data.
Despite the lack of formal secondary and tertiary level education, Nobel gained proficiency in six languages: Swedish, French, Russian, English, German and Italian. He also developed sufficient literary skill to write poetry in English. His Nemesis, a prose tragedy in four acts about Beatrice Cenci, partly inspired by Percy Bysshe Shelley's The Cenci, was printed while he was dying. The entire stock except for three copies was destroyed immediately after his death, being regarded as scandalous and blasphemous. The first surviving edition (bilingual Swedish–Esperanto) was published in Sweden in 2003. The play has been translated into Slovenian via the Esperanto version and into French. In 2010 it was published in Russia in another bilingual (Russian–Esperanto) edition.
Nobel found that when nitroglycerin was incorporated in an absorbent inert substance like kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) it became safer and more convenient to handle, and this mixture he patented in 1867 as 'dynamite'. Nobel demonstrated his explosive for the first time that year, at a quarry in Redhill, Surrey, England. In order to help reestablish his name and improve the image of his business from the earlier controversies associated with the dangerous explosives, Nobel had also considered naming the highly powerful substance "Nobel's Safety Powder", but settled with Dynamite instead, referring to the Greek word for 'power'.
Nobel later on combined nitroglycerin with various nitrocellulose compounds, similar to collodion, but settled on a more efficient recipe combining another nitrate explosive, and obtained a transparent, jelly-like substance, which was a more powerful explosive than dynamite. 'Gelignite', or blasting gelatin, as it was named, was patented in 1876; and was followed by a host of similar combinations, modified by the addition of potassium nitrate and various other substances. Gelignite was more stable, transportable and conveniently formed to fit into bored holes, like those used in drilling and mining, than the previously used compounds and was adopted as the standard technology for mining in the Age of Engineering bringing Nobel a great amount of financial success, though at a significant cost to his health. An off-shoot of this research resulted in Nobel's invention of ballistite, the precursor of many modern smokeless powder explosives and still used as a rocket propellant.
In 1888 Alfred's brother Ludvig died while visiting Cannes and a French newspaper erroneously published Alfred's obituary. It condemned him for his invention of dynamite and is said to have brought about his decision to leave a better legacy after his death. The obituary stated, Le marchand de la mort est mort ("The merchant of death is dead") and went on to say, "Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday." Alfred was disappointed with what he read and concerned with how he would be remembered.
On 27 November 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality. After taxes and bequests to individuals, Nobel's will allocated 94% of his total assets, 31,225,000 Swedish kronor, to establish the five Nobel Prizes. This converted to GBP £1,687,837 at the time. In 2012, the capital was worth around SEK 3.1 billion (USD 472 million, EUR 337 million), which is almost twice the amount of the initial capital, taking inflation into account.
The first three of these prizes are awarded for eminence in physical science, in chemistry and in medical science or physiology; the fourth is for literary work "in an ideal direction" and the fifth prize is to be given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.
The formulation for the literary prize being given for a work "in an ideal direction" (i idealisk riktning in Swedish), is cryptic and has caused much confusion. For many years, the Swedish Academy interpreted "ideal" as "idealistic" (idealistisk) and used it as a reason not to give the prize to important but less Romantic authors, such as Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy. This interpretation has since been revised, and the prize has been awarded to, for example, Dario Fo and José Saramago, who do not belong to the camp of literary idealism.
There was room for interpretation by the bodies he had named for deciding on the physical sciences and chemistry prizes, given that he had not consulted them before making the will. In his one-page testament, he stipulated that the money go to discoveries or inventions in the physical sciences and to discoveries or improvements in chemistry. He had opened the door to technological awards, but had not left instructions on how to deal with the distinction between science and technology. Since the deciding bodies he had chosen were more concerned with the former, the prizes went to scientists more often than engineers, technicians or other inventors.
In 2001, Alfred Nobel's great-grandnephew, Peter Nobel (b. 1931), asked the Bank of Sweden to differentiate its award to economists given "in Alfred Nobel's memory" from the five other awards. This request added to the controversy over whether the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel is actually a "Nobel Prize".
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- Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe 1789–1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire, "Alfred Nobel", 2006 Thomson Gale.
- Schück, Henrik, Ragnar Sohlman, Anders Österling, Carl Gustaf Bernhard, the Nobel Foundation, and Wilhelm Odelberg, eds. Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. 1950. 3rd ed. Coordinating Ed., Wilhelm Odelberg. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc., 1972, p. 14. ISBN 0-444-00117-4, ISBN 978-0-444-00117-7. (Originally published in Swedish as Nobelprisen 50 år: forskare, diktare, fredskämpar.)
- "The Man Who Made It Happen — Alfred Nobel". 3833. Retrieved 3 May 2012.
- Carlisle, Rodney (2004). Scientific American Inventions and Discoveries, p. 256. John Wiley & Songs, Inc., New Jersey. ISBN 0-471-24410-4.
- "Nobel of Peace Laureates". March 2013. Retrieved 8 December 2013. "- For seven years, from 1894 to 1901, Söderblom preached in Paris, where his congregation included Alfred Nobel"
- "Alfred Nobel, hans far och hans bröder". March 2013. Retrieved 9 December 2013. "(swe: Genom dop och konfirmation var Alfred Nobel lutheran -en: Alfred Nobel was through baptism and confirmation a Lutheran)"
- Alfred Nobel (2008). Némésis: tragédie en quatre actes. Belles lettres. ISBN 978-2-251-44342-3. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
- The History Channel, Modern Marvels, episode 038 (originally aired 21 June 1999)
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- At exchange rate of 18.5:1 in SEK:GBP
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- Abrams, Irwin (2001). The Nobel Peace Prize and the Laureates. Watson Publishing International. p. 7. ISBN 0-88135-388-4.
- Fant, Kenne (Ruuth, Marianne, transl.) (1991). Alfred Nobel: a biography. New York: Arcade Publishing ISBN 1-55970-328-8, p. 327
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- Nobel, Alfred Bernhard in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
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- Alfred Nobel US Patent No 78,317, dated 26 May 1868
- Evlanoff, M. and Fluor, M. Alfred Nobel – The Loneliest Millionaire. Los Angeles, Ward Ritchie Press, 1969.
- Sohlman, R. The Legacy of Alfred Nobel, transl. Schubert E. London: The Bodley Head, 1983 (Swedish original, Ett Testamente, published in 1950).
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- Sri Kantha, S. Could nitroglycerine poisoning be the cause of Alfred Nobel's anginal pains and premature death? Medical Hypotheses, 1997; 49: 303–306.
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