The Nobel Prize is synonymous with outstanding work in the sciences, humanities and peace, but did you know that they only exist because of dynamite? Or that the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize initially created tension?
In the latter half of the 19th century business was going well for the Nobel family. Employing Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist Alfred Nobel, his father and his three brothers, the family business produced explosives.
In 1864, a shed that was used in the production of nitroglycerine exploded, killing five people, including Nobel’s younger brother. However, Nobel was not deterred and instead focussed his efforts on improving the stability of explosives. He struck it big time with the invention of dynamite two years later.
The Nobel Prize for noble work
Although it might sound a bit violent, explosives were sought for the advancement of industrialisation, making things like mining infinitely easier. By the time Nobel died, at the age of 63 on December 10th 1896, he was a multimillionaire with his name on 355 patents and laboratories and factories in 20 different countries.
In his will, Nobel stated that the bulk of his fortune was to be used to create a fund, the interest of which was to be paid annually by way of prizes to honour international achievements in physics, chemistry, literature, physiology or medicine, and peace.
Despite this being a very noble (!) will, not everyone was happy with it. All of the prizes, with the exception of the prize for peace, were to be awarded by Swedish institutions, which Nobel named specifically in his will. This meant that these bodies had to spend the time and money choosing recipients and handing out the awards. Nobel also stated that the Peace Prize was to be awarded by the Norwegian Parliament, which was seen as very unpatriotic by the people of Sweden. However, it may be that Nobel was once again exercising his brilliant mind as this move helped to mend relations between Sweden and Norway which at the time were very shaky.
And it wasn’t even half bad! In the 1800s Sweden was a very small fish in the world’s pond, but with the Nobel Prizes being awarded by, and from, Sweden the global academic community now focussed on Sweden each and every year. And it continues to do so.