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Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel Photo

Alfred Nobel was born on 21st October 1833. He was one of the eight children born to Immanuel Nobel and Karolina Andriette. It would have been a large family if all the children had survived, but only four boys including Alfred made it to adulthood.

Alfred’s father was an engineer with a knack for inventing things as well; he ran a successful business making machines, tools and explosives. Since Alfred was a bright student, private tutors were hired for his education. Alfred was particularly in love with chemistry and had a natural talent for picking up languages; he was fluent English, German, French, and Russian.

In 1850 he went to Paris for higher education and was taught by Nikolai Zinin. His passion for chemistry took him to America where he excelled in the field and in 1857 he filed for his first patent for a gas meter.

Later Years

After completing his education in 1859, Alfred started working at his father’s factory, which by then was being successfully run by his elder brother Ludvig. As a young man, Alfred was fascinated by explosives and enthusiastically experimented with nitroglycerine, a highly unstable and explosive compound. An accidental explosion at one of the factory sheds killed five people including Alfred’s younger brother, Emil. This made Alfred rethink his passion and he focused all his energies towards developing explosives which were safer to handle than nitroglycerin.

His extensive experimenting finally bore fruit and Alfred realized that nitroglycerin when combined with an absorbent yet static substance became stable itself also and was much safer to use. Thus dynamite was invented and in 1867 it was patented and adopted by mining companies all over the world as a much safer option than black powder.  Over the years, Alfred also developed other powerful explosives, such as gelignite and detonators to safely ignite them. Alfred created a whole network of factories around the world for producing safe explosives and ammunition and grew quite rich in the process. In 1887, he developed a smokeless propellant; Ballistite with a mixture of nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin and camphor.

In 1888, his elder brother Ludvig passed away and due to a confusion, a noted French newspaper printed Alfred Nobel’s obituary as; “the merchant of death has died”. This greatly upset Alfred when he realized that this is what his legacy will be upon his death. In order to redeem himself, he left a huge portion of his wealth for the creation of an international award which will honor eminent personalities from the field of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and anyone in the pursuit of peace on earth.  On 27th November 1895, he signed his last will which laid the foundation for the much sought after Nobel Prize of today.

Personal Life & Legacy

Although Alfred Nobel died a bachelor and never had any children, he did have a number of relationships which unfortunately never bore any fruit. He first fell in love with Alexandra, a Russian girl who rejected his proposal for marriage. Later on, he became very close to his secretary Bertha Kinsky with whom he stayed close until his death. Apart from that, his longest relationship was with Sofie Hess which lasted for almost 18 years.

Alfred was generally a loner and was known to suffer from bouts of depression.

He was an ardent fan of literature and was a poet himself as well. But since his parents did not appreciate his literary pursuits, his work was never published. Alfred Nobel died in 1896 of a massive stroke.

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