Alfred Nobel was born on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. In 1842, when Alfred was nine years old, his mother (Andrietta Ahlsell) and brothers (Robert and Ludvig) moved to St. Petersburg, Russia to join Alfred’s father (Immanuel), who had moved there five years earlier. The following year, Alfred’s younger brother, Emil, was born.
Immanuel Nobel, an architect, builder, and inventor, opened a machineshop in St. Petersburg and was soon very successful with contracts from the Russian government to build defense weapons.
Because of his father’s success, Alfred was tutored at home until the age of 16. Yet, many consider Alfred Nobel a mostly self-educated man. Besides being a trained chemist, Alfred was an avid reader of literature and was fluent in English, German, French, Swedish, and Russian.
Alfred also spent two years traveling. He spent much of this time working in a laboratory in Paris, but also traveled to the United States. Upon his return, Alfred worked in his father’s factory. He worked there until his father went bankrupt in 1859.
Alfred soon began experimenting with nitroglycerine, creating his first explosions in early summer 1862. In only a year (October 1863), Alfred received a Swedish patent for his percussion detonator – the “Nobel lighter.”
Having moved back to Sweden to help his father with an invention, Alfred established a small factory at Helenborg near Stockholm to manufacture nitroglycerine. Unfortunately, nitroglycerine is a very difficult and dangerous material to handle. In 1864, Alfred’s factory blew up – killing several people, including Alfred’s younger brother, Emil.
The explosion did not slow down Alfred, and within only a month, he organized other factories to manufacture nitroglycerine.
In 1867, Alfred invented a new and safer-to-handle explosive – dynamite.
Though Alfred became famous for his invention of dynamite, many people did not intimately know Alfred Nobel. He was a quiet man who did not like a lot of pretense or show. He had very few friends and never married.
And though he recognized the destructive power of dynamite, Alfred believed it was a harbinger of peace. Alfred told Bertha von Suttner, an advocate for world peace,
Alfred Nobel had written several wills during his lifetime, but the last one was dated November 27, 1895 – a little over a year before he died.
Nobel’s last will left approximately 94 percent of his worth to the establishment of five prizes (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace) to “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”
Axelrod, Alan and Charles Phillips. What Everyone Should Know About the 20th Century. Holbrook, Massachusetts: Adams Media Corporation, 1998.
Odelberg, W. (ed.). Nobel: The Man & His Prizes. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc., 1972.
Official Website of the Nobel Foundation. Retrieved April 20, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.nobel.se