Born: Alfred Bernhard Nobel 21 October 1833 Stockholm, Sweden
Died: 10 December 1896 (aged 63) Sanremo, Liguria, Italy
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist who lived from October 21, 1833, to December 10, 1896. He is best remembered for bequeathing his riches to establish the Nobel Prize, but he also made significant contributions to science throughout his lifetime, owning 355 patents. Nobel’s most famous innovation was dynamite, a safer and easier way of harnessing the explosive potential of nitroglycerin that was patented in 1867 and quickly employed for mining and infrastructure development all over the world.
Nobel showed an early aptitude for science and learning, especially in chemistry and languages; at the age of 24, he was proficient in six languages and had submitted his first patent. With his family, he started several businesses, the most notable of which was Bofors, an iron and steel company that he grew into a significant maker of cannons and other armaments.
Nobel was inspired to give his riches to the Nobel Prize organization after reading an erroneous obituary accusing him of being a war profiteer. The Nobel Prize institution would annually acknowledge people who “conferred the greatest benefit to humanity.” He was named after the synthetic element nobelium, and his name and legacy live on through firms like Dynamit Nobel and AkzoNobel, which arose from mergers with enterprises he founded.
Nobel was chosen as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which would be in charge of selecting Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry under his will.
Early life and education
On October 21, 1833, Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in the United Kingdoms of Sweden and Norway. He was the third son of inventor and engineer Immanuel Nobel (1801–1872) and Karolina Andriette Nobel (née Ahlsell 1805–1889). In 1827, the couple married and had eight children. Only Alfred and his three brothers survived childhood due to the family’s poverty. Alfred Nobel was a descendant of Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck (1630–1702) through his father, and the youngster was interested in engineering, particularly explosives, learning the fundamental principles from his father while he was young. Alfred Nobel inherited his father’s passion for technology, who was a graduate of Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology.
In the 1850s, Alfred Nobel was a young man. Nobel’s father relocated to Saint Petersburg, Russia, after a series of business setbacks, and became a successful machine tool and explosives producer there. He began work on the torpedo after inventing the veneer lathe (which enabled the fabrication of contemporary plywood). The family moved to the city around 1842. Nobel’s parents were able to send him to private tutors now that they were rich, and the youngster excelled in his studies, particularly in chemistry and languages, becoming fluent in English, French, German, and Russian. Nobel attended the only school he ever attended as a child in Stockholm for 18 months, from 1841 to 1842.
Nobel spoke Swedish, French, Russian, English, German, and Italian fluently. He also honed his writing skills to the point that he could write poetry in English. His Nemesis is a four-act prose tragedy about Beatrice Cenci. It was printed while he was dying, but all three copies were destroyed soon after his death since it was deemed scandalous and obscene. It was first published in 2003 in Sweden and has since been translated into Slovenian and French.
Nobel studied chemistry with Nikolai Zinin as a young man, then moved to Paris in 1850 to continue his research. There he met Ascanio Sobrero, the three-year-old inventor of nitroglycerin. Sobrero as opposed to the usage of nitroglycerin because it was unpredictable, exploding when exposed to different temperatures or pressures. Nobel, on the other hand, became interested in figuring out how to regulate and use nitroglycerin as an economically viable explosive because it was far more powerful than gunpowder.
He traveled to the United States for a year to study in 1851, working for a short time under Swedish-American inventor John Ericsson, who designed the USS Monitor, the American Civil War ironclad. Nobel got his first patent, an English patent for a gas meter, in 1857, and his first Swedish patent, “means to produce gunpowder,” in 1863.
The family industry produced armaments for the Crimean War (1853–1856), but when the fighting finished, they struggled to transition back to ordinary domestic manufacturing, and they declared bankruptcy. Nobel’s father passed his factory to his second son, Ludvig Nobel (1831–1888), in 1859, and he considerably enhanced it. Nobel and his parents returned to Sweden from Russia, where Nobel focused on explosives research, particularly the safe manufacture and use of nitroglycerin. Nobel invented a detonator in 1863 and the blasting cap in 1865.
On September 3, 1864, in the factory in Heleneborg, Stockholm, Sweden, a shed used for the manufacture of nitroglycerin exploded, killing five employees, including Nobel’s younger brother Emil. Nobel was so shaken by the disaster that he formed Nitroglycerin Aktiebolaget AB in Vinterviken so that he could continue working in a more distant region. Nobel invented dynamite in 1867, a material that was easier and safer to handle than nitroglycerin, which was more unstable. Dynamite was patented in the United States and the United Kingdom, and it was widely employed in mining and the construction of transportation networks around the world. Nobel invented gelignite, which is more stable and powerful than dynamite, in 1875, and patented ballistite, a predecessor to cordite, in 1887.
Nobel got an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1893 and was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1884, the same institution that would subsequently select laureates for two Nobel prizes.
Ludvig and Robert Nobel formed the oil business Branobel and were extremely wealthy in their own right. Nobel made a lot of money by investing in these new oil fields and making a lot of money. Despite his seeming pacifist nature, Nobel received 355 foreign patents during his lifetime, and by the time he died, his company had constructed more than 90 armaments factories.
Nobel discovered that mixing nitroglycerin with an absorbent inert substance like kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) made it safer and easier to handle, and he patented this mixture as “dynamite” in 1867. Nobel first displayed his explosive at a quarry in Redhill, Surrey, England, later that year. Nobel considered renaming the incredibly strong chemical “Nobel’s Safety Powder” to help re-establish his reputation and enhance the image of his business following past difficulties related to deadly explosives, but instead selected Dynamite, relating to the Greek word for “power” (v).
Nobel later combined nitroglycerin with other nitrocellulose compounds, comparable to collodion, but eventually arrived at a more effective recipe combining another nitrate explosive, resulting in a transparent, jelly-like substance that was more powerful than dynamite. Gelignite, also known as blasting gelatine, was developed in 1876 and was followed by several other similar mixtures, some of which were altered by the addition of potassium nitrate and other ingredients.
Gelignite was more stable, transportable, and easily molded to fit into bored holes, such as those used in drilling and mining, than the compounds previously utilized. It became the standard mining technology during the “Age of Engineering,” bringing Nobel considerable financial success at the expense of his health. Nobel’s creation of ballistite, the precursor to many modern smokeless powder explosives and still employed as a rocket propellant was a product of this research.
Following the death of his brother Ludvig in 1888, various newspapers published incorrect obituaries for Alfred. One French newspaper criticized him for inventing military explosives rather than dynamite, which was primarily utilized for civilian purposes, and is thought to have influenced his determination to leave a better legacy after his death. “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who grew wealthy by discovering ways to murder more people faster than ever before, died yesterday,” according to the obituary. When Nobel saw the obituary, he was shocked that he would be remembered in this manner. At least in part, his choice to posthumously contribute the majority of his fortune to establish the Nobel Prize was motivated by a desire to leave a better legacy.
Nobel wrote his last will and will on November 27, 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, setting aside the majority of his wealth to establish the Nobel Prizes, which would be granted annually without regard to the country. Nobel would put aside 94 percent of his total assets, or 31,225,000 Swedish kronor, after taxes and bequests to individuals, to establish the five Nobel Prizes. In 2012, the capital was worth around SEK 3.1 billion (US$472 million, EUR 337 million), which is almost twice the amount of the initial capital, taking inflation into account.
The first three prizes are given for eminence in physical science, chemistry, and medical science or physiology; the fourth prize is given for literary work “in an ideal direction,” and the fifth prize is given to the person or society that renders the greatest service to the cause of international fraternity, such as the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or the establishment or advancement of peace congresses.
The literary prize is presented for a work “in an ideal direction” which is cryptic and has created a lot of misunderstanding. For many years, the Swedish Academy considered “ideal” to mean “idealistic” (idealistic), and used this as a justification for avoiding awarding the prize to famous but less romantic authors like Henrik Ibsen and Leo Tolstoy. Since then, this interpretation has been altered, and the prize has been given to authors such as Dario Fo and José Saramago, who do not belong to the literary idealism group.
Nobel was accused of high treason against France for selling Ballistite to Italy, so he moved from Paris to Sanremo, Italy in 1891. On 10 December 1896, he suffered a stroke and died. He had left most of his wealth in trust, unbeknownst to his family, to fund the Nobel Prize awards.