Alfred Nobel: The Man behind the Prize. Alfred Nobel is known for starting the Nobel Prize. This prize is given every year to some of the greatest minds in the world who through their work, help to better society. In opposition to the improvement of society, is the fact that Nobel's other known inventions brought much death and destruction to the world (Frost). This combination of inventions helps to pose the question who was Alfred Nobel, and why did Nobel create this prize to help the world. In this paper I will find out who was the man behind the inventions that brought so much death and destruction to the world.

I will also find out why he created this prize to have people work to better the planet and protect life itself. Lastly there have been many awards given out, and I will investigate some of the winners and the role that the Nobel Prize played in their subsequent lives. It seems to me that if it was not for Alfred Nobel's invention of blasting caps and dynamite the industrial revolution and the great gold rush wouldn't be the same as we know it today. The explosive properties of dynamite allowed people to move mountains to build new roads, and dig deeper mines to reach the vast wealth underground.

This creation made one of the biggest impacts in the world in my opinion, and it fascinates me to know that the creator of something so powerful seems to have shifted direction in his later years to a more peaceful manner. The reason I wrote this report is that I wanted to find out where Nobel came from and what forces played a role in his creation of such a destructive power. Also, I am very curious what caused his shift in perspective to create a prize to better society. Over the years there have been many winners of the 5 Nobel prizes, and I intend to investigate some of their individual contributions to help determine criteria for winning the prizes. Alfred Nobel was born to Immanuel and Andriette Nobel in Stockholm Sweden on October 21 1833 (Frost). Nobel was the 2nd youngest of 4 children.

His father, Immanuel Nobel, was a great inventor but a very poor business man and his mother, whom he dearly loved, "kept the family together" (Fant). After many ill-fated business decisions and going bankrupt, Immanuel Nobel decided to move the family to Russia in the hopes of starting a new life (Fant). The Nobel family settled in St. Petersburg, Russia where Immanuel Nobel started a mechanical workshop. Alfred Nobel started to attend school in St. Petersburg where he excelled in his studies, especially chemistry (Fant). As Alfred Nobel grew into a young man he became well traveled, and consequently learned five different languages fluently (Fant). In his spare time he wrote novels, poetry, and plays (Fant).

As Nobel got older, he started to help in his father's workshop. While working at the workshop Nobel learned about and became fascinated by nitroglycerin (Frost). Nobel and his father became very competitive in trying to find out who was better at creating a "massive explosion" (Frost). Young Nobel finally won the competition with his father by using nitroglycerin to create a larger explosive device (Frost). Afterwards, Alfred Nobel discovered how to utilize the power contained within the nitroglycerin compound; however it was still a very volatile substance (Dynamite).

Nobel knew there was a huge potential for such an explosive but he needed to figure out a way to make it safer. Nobel "worked 16 hours a day" to find out how to harness the power of this unstable destructive substance (Dynamite). In 1864 a large amount of nitroglycerin exploded accidentally at the factory where Nobel worked with the dangerous substance (Frost). Nobel's younger brother, Emil, was killed in the accident. Determined to find a way to make this explosive safer to use, Nobel returned to work the next day and worked day and night. Nobel never mentioned the accident but did move his experiment to an offshore barge (Frost).

After many secluded nights Alfred Nobel finally found a way to mix nitroglycerin with diatomite, "a sandy organic material that could absorb three times its weight to explosive oil" (Fant). The end result of this mixture was a pulp that "could be shaped into sticks" which were much easier to move then tins of liquid (Frost). Nobel named this new explosive Dynamite "inspired by the Greek word for power-dynamic" (Frost). Nobel's other claim to fame was the invention of the blasting cap. At the time of invention, a need for a reliable detonation device had arisen (Frost). Nobel created a small percussion cap which was also known as a blasting cap.

This small but reliable device was instrumental to the practice of explosives (Frost). The blasting cap has been called "the greatest discovery that has been made in the theory and practice of explosives" (Frost). Nobel's dynamite quickly became the world's favorite type of explosive (Jackson). Nobel built factories all over the world, "wherever engineers solved problems by blasting" (Jackson). There was such a demand for dynamite that profits soared. In Britain alone, a company shareholder could be expected to receive annual dividends anywhere from 12-20 percent for ten years (Jackson).

Factory output of explosives increased from 11 tons in 1867 to 3120 tons in 1874 (Jackson). Nobel gave the world a substance so powerful it could move mountains for new roads and dig mines deeper. As more and more people used the explosive the death rate also increased (Fant). Dynamite did help in the mining and construction industry but at a cost.

Dynamite was widely available to acquire, but since dynamite was so easy to get it sometimes fell into the wrong hands (Fant). Bank and train robbers, as well as murderers were able to use the powerful substance to blast safes and kill people (Fant). As Nobel's creation financially gave him everything that he wanted as a child, he continued to invent and patent other creations. Nobel created a solution with was even more potent then dynamite which he called Blasting Gelatin (Fant). He also patented "an almost smokeless gun power" (Jackson). Nobel throughout his life had 355 patents to his name (Jackson).

As Nobel grew old he was given a bizarre look at his own obituary. His brother, Ludwig, who stayed in Russia, had died (Fant). In a mix up, the newspaper thought that it was Alfred Nobel who had died. The obituary described Nobel as the "Merchant of Death" (Frost). The things that Nobel had worked so hard to give the world would in his mind be his downfall. Many think this is the reason that Nobel became a pacifist (Jackson).

He began to support Bertha Kinky Von Suttner's involvement in the European peace movement (Jackson). In the last few years of Nobel's life, the only people that were around him were servants (Frost). Nobel was suffering from heart disease, for which Nitroglycerin was ironically prescribed (Jackson). Nobel suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage, in which "for the next three days he could only speak haltingly and only in Swedish" (Fant).

On December 10, 1896 a butler found Alfred Nobel dead. Nobel did not want to be known as the "Merchant of Death", so without the help of a lawyer Nobel had written a will before his death (Fant). The amount of money that Nobel left for family and friends was small (Jackson). In his will, Nobel then directed the executor of his estate to convert all his properties to cash and to invest it all into safe securities (Jackson). The interest from these securities then would be awarded each year in four different prizes to "those persons who shall have contributed most materially to benefit mankind" (Jackson). Nobel also told one of the witnesses to his will that "his aim was to help promising talents become independent" (Jackson).

The four awards that would be given are in the areas of Peace, Chemistry, Physics, and Literature (Sohlman). Also in his will he named each institution that would select the winners. The institutions that he named were The Royal Swedish Academy of Science, for physics and chemistry; The Swedish Academy, for literature; and The Norwegian Parliament, for peace (Jackson). Then in 1968 the Nobel Foundation created the prize for Economics, which is awarded by the Bank of Sweden (Nobel E-Museum). Winning the Nobel Prize can bring the winner unwanted changes to their lives. Harriet Zuckerman found that many scientists, who won the prize, often decreased their productivity subsequently (Jackson).

Winners as far back as 1903 became too distracted or bombarded with offers shortly after winning the prize, to continue their previous work (Jackson). Many winners are asked to speak at functions, or receive honors from other societies which keep them too busy to continue (Sohlman). Arno Penzias is an example of this phenomenon. Penzias was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 for his and Robert Wilson's research that was the most conclusive evidence that supported the big bang theory (Jackson). The Nobel Prize gave him great fame for his work but with this notoriety came a hindrance (Jackson). Penzias once said the prize created an "awe barrier" in his life (Jackson).

The constant speeches and functions that he attended took a great toll on him and his work (Jackson). Another winner with a lifestyle change was George Bernard Shaw. Shaw was award the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1925 for his work which stimulated idealism and humanity (Jackson). After Shaw was awarded the prize he became a critic in the selection process (Jackson). Shaw once said that the prize was "a lifebelt thrown to a swimmer who has already reached the shore" (Jackson).

Nobel was one of the great in venters of the modern age. Because of his inventions we were able to construct building and roads where previously we would have been unable. The inventions also helped to dig deeper mines to extract the precious minerals that we use daily. Nobel's explosive inventions changed they way we looked at many things, but it also ended may lives. Not wanting to be known as the "Merchant of Death" he wanted to change the way people looked at him. He created the Nobel Prize to help promote his ideas of peace and helping all mankind.

This award, that is sometimes considered the highest level of success, was given to some of the greatest people in our world. Since the first time the award was given back in 1901 until today the thoughts of those winners have helped shape our world. Those winners will be forever known as people who helped promote peace and make this world a better place for everyone.


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24 March 2003.