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The name Nobel is universally known for a global prize, which recognises the brightest minds and the most outstanding achievements in over half a dozen fields of science, literature and humanitarian work. We all know that Alfred Nobel set up the Nobel Prize, as it was part of everyone’s GK books. But how well do you about the man himself?

Discover the amazing life of the man whose foundation now recognises the people who did incredible feats for humanity.

Alfred Nobel – The Story

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, where the Nobel prizes are now awarded each year. Born October 21, 1833, Alfred was the son of Immanuel Nobel, who was also an inventor and scientist. Around the time that Alfred was born, his father’s business was starting to fail. So Nobel senior decided to try his luck in Russia, while Alfred, and his two elder brothers stayed behind with his mother, Andriette Nobel, in Stockholm, where she opened up a small grocery store to support the family.

Alfred’s childhood was spent in relative poverty, even though his father had been a pretty successful businessman earlier and his mother came from a wealthy family. His father’s move to Russia, however, changed all this and his business in the new country took off and really flourished during the Crimean war.

Thanks to his newly reclaimed wealth, Immanuel was able to move his family with him to Russia, where Alfred along with his brothers received the very best education. In fact, by the time he was 17 years old, he was already fluent in 5 languages. While in Russia, the Nobel family added another little boy to their family.

His interest in poetry does not sit well with his father

Alfred showed an interest in poetry, which met with the disapproval of Immanuel Nobel, who sent him to Europe to be an understudy under the famed chemist Professor T. J. Pelouze. It was here that Alfred Nobel first met Ascanio Sobrero, the man who invented nitroglycerine. Alfred would later refine nitroglycerine and create his own superior, safer and more stable product. The world today knows his invention as dynamite.

Alfred returned to Russia after his study with the professor was complete and continued his efforts to improve the nitroglycerine, which was highly unstable and had little commercial use. During this time the Crimean war had ended and business for Nobel senior was failing again. The family moved back to Sweden, with Alfred’s elder brothers staying behind in order to try and save the business if possible.

Alfred started living in Stockholm again while still working on his nitroglycerine project

A heavy price for his obsession

The road to creating dynamite was not without risks, accidents and even deaths. In one of his experiments with the highly unstable and volatile chemical, Alfred Nobel caused a huge explosion, which ended up claiming the life of his youngest brother Emil.

After much work, he was finally able to devise a way to turn nitroglycerine into dynamite. He quickly discovered that this would change the mining industry as well as have several commercial benefits. This proved to be right, and for the next three decades, he became extremely wealthy, with dynamite factories and other business interests located in over 20 countries.

It was during this time that he met Bertha von Suttner, who worked for him as a receptionist for some time and later became a close friend. It was her deep interest in global peace which led to Alfred Nobel also adding a prize for noteworthy peacekeeping missions all over the globe, along with the ones for science and literature in his will which later led to the formation of the foundation which awards the Nobel prizes today.


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