Who Was Alfred Nobel?
Born in Sweden, chemist Alfred Nobel worked at his father's arms factory as a young man. Intellectually curious, he went on to experiment with chemistry and explosives. In 1864, a deadly explosion killed his younger brother. Deeply affected, Nobel developed a safer explosive: dynamite. Nobel used his vast fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes, which has come to be known for awarding the greatest achievements throughout the world.
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born on October 21, 1833, in Stockholm, Sweden, the fourth of Immanuel and Caroline Nobel's eight children. Nobel was often sickly as a child, but he was always lively and curious about the world around him. Although he was a skilled engineer and ready inventor, Nobel's father struggled to set up a profitable business in Sweden. When Nobel was 4 years old, his father moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to take a job manufacturing explosives and the family followed him in 1842. Nobel's newly affluent parents sent him to private tutors in Russia, and he quickly mastered chemistry and became fluent in English, French, German and Russian as well as his native language, Swedish.
Family Tragedy and the Invention of Dynamite
Nobel left Russia at the age of 18. After spending a year in Paris studying chemistry, he moved to the United States. After five years, he returned to Russia and began working in his father's factory making military equipment for the Crimean War. In 1859, at the war's end, the company went bankrupt. The family moved back to Sweden, and Nobel soon began experimenting with explosives. In 1864, when Nobel was 29, a huge explosion in the family's Swedish factory killed five people, including Nobel's younger brother Emil. Dramatically affected by the event, Nobel set out to develop a safer explosive. In 1867, he patented a mixture of nitroglycerin and an absorbent substance, producing what he named "dynamite."
In 1888, Nobel's brother Ludvig died while in France. A French newspaper erroneously published Nobel's obituary instead of Ludvig's and condemned Nobel for his invention of dynamite. Provoked by the event and disappointed with how he felt he might be remembered, Nobel set aside a bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes to honor men and women for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and for working toward peace. Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, established the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1968 in honor of Nobel.
Death and Legacy
He died of a stroke on December 10, 1896, in San Remo, Italy. After taxes and bequests to individuals, Nobel left 31,225,000 Swedish kronor (equivalent to 250 million U.S. dollars in 2008) to fund the Nobel Prizes.
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