The Nobel Prze MedalCredit: NYC-JDThe name of first Nobel Prize winner does not come trippingly to mind but, certainly, the creator of the Prizes, Alfred Noble was not among them. First of all, he was already dead and the prizes are not awarded posthumously. Secondly, his expertise in explosives would undoubtedly raise the concerned eyes of the notoriously, politically correct Swedish judges.

All the same, Monsieur Nobel’s establishment of the Nobel Prizes has brought him lasting fame and a spectacularly positive reputation. With this fact in mind, it can certainly be argued that he was, indeed the first Nobel Prize winner.


 A Life Well Spent

Alfred Nobel(110385)Monsieur Alfred Nobel was such a distinguished scientist that, in his lifetime, a newly discovered element, nobelium, was named in his honor. It was an almost unique honor and demonstrated the esteem in which he was held by the scientific establishment of the time. It certainly was not a distinction accorded to a man disdained for his love of  violence and mayhem.

Instead, M. Nobel was honored, most appropriately, for his world altering invention of dynamite. It is a sad irony that he was subsequently and almost universally derided for decades by a liberal, uneducated, anti-weapon press, that espoused its own misguided reliance on science.

Still, despite an almost unwavering hatred for his invention by an ignorant press, dynamite and the explosives derived from it have proven to be one of the most beneficial inventions in all of human history. In fact, no great works of engineering including the Interstate highway system and space travel would be possible without M. Noble’s inimitable contributions.



A Life Dedicated to Science

MoleculesCredit: Rd BoasAlfred Nobel was born in Stockholm to an engineer father. Early in young Alfred’s life, the family moved to St. Petersburg in present day Russia where his father became a successful explosives manufacturer. Thus began, Alfred’s lifelong fascination with explosives that would eventually earn him 350 patents.

With only 18 months of formal schooling, it may seem odd that Alfred Nobel would become an engineer. A lesser man would not have succeeded but under his father’s tutelage, Alfred’s innate brilliance gave him a firm grasp of the fundamentals of chemistry. His education continued in private with the renowned Russian chemistry professor, Nicolai Zinin and the American inventor of the ironclad, John Ericsson.



The World Altering Benefits of Dynamite

Dynamite(110386)Credit: DynomiteNitroglycerine, in its natural liquid state is an extremely unstable substance and even its inventor, Ascanio Sobrero, decried its use as an explosive. Nobel and his brothers, sensing an opportunity decided to develop a more useful version of the compound.

Originally conceived as an admixture of nitroglycerine and diatomaceous earth, dynamite was the first practical high explosive ever developed. Its use in mining, quarrying, construction and demolition unleashed the first, pardon the pun, construction boom in the world.

Dynamite was instrumental in the construction of every major dam in the world from 1870 to the late 1980s. It was also used extensively in building highways, transportation and utility tunnels, underground facilities and in mining operations. In short, dynamite has proven a dependable and versatile, if somewhat dangerous, friend of mankind. Dynamite is still used in the 21st century, especially for underwater applications although many, more stable types of explosives have now superseded it.



Troubles and Success

Boom!!Alfred Nobel certainly suffered for his art. He loved explosives and was a consummate professional when dealing with them. Still, even under the best of circumstances, accidents happen and Alfred’s younger brother, Emil, was killed in an accident while experimenting with nitroglycerine. Other, smaller misfortunes plagued the Nobel but he persevered and eventually opened more than 90 armaments factories in almost every country in Europe. These factories as well as prudent dealings in the burgeoning oil industry made Messr.Nobel and his brothers some of the richest men in Europe.



A Changed Man

While Alfred Nobel had been a pacifist for his entire life, he became acutely aware of his public reputation in an unusual manner. It was a bright cold day in April, 1888 and Alfred Nobel awoke to read his own obituary. In fact, Alfred’s brother and partner, Ludvig, had passed away and the death had been mistaken as the great man’s own.

The obituary, in a Paris newspaper, painted an unflattering picture of Alfred as an arms dealer in love with war and destruction and included such phrases as “The merchant of death is dead” and that Nobel “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” M. Nobel was not amused.

In response, Alfred Nobel would go on to endow the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and Peace. They are widely considered as the most prestigious awards in each of these fields.



His Legacy

Death MaskCredit: CC-BY-SA-2.5.Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite, blasting caps, smokeless gunpowder and hundreds of other explosive related items. All of these items became important to mankind, not because of their use in weapons, but because of their extreme utility in construction. M. Nobel’s legacy in this regard lays in all the tunnels, dams, buildings and other structures built in the last century and a half.

Still, he is best remembered for his endowment of the Nobel Prizes. With a practical mind, a scientific bent and a will to advance the interests of all mankind, he created prizes designed to primarily advance science but also one to promulgate peace.

While some years have seen controversy, the scientific Prizes have remained relatively steadfast in their purpose and are usually conferred on recipients for a single discovery from a lifetime of effort.  The Peace Prize, however, has degenerated into a travesty of political agendas with such winners as the terrorist Yasser Arafat, three notoriously left-leaning Americans, Jimmy Carter, Al Gore and Barack Obama and the also left-wing, proven fraud, Rigoberta Menchu



A Final Note

In any event, Alfred Nobel achieved his goal. He is most remembered for his benevolence in founding the Nobel Prizes instead of his more significant contributions in the field of explosives. It is, indeed, a funny world, when a man of science, with the best intentions, is remembered for a mere act of charity instead of his world-altering inventions. He is the first and most lasting winner of the Nobel Prize.


*N.B. The first five recipients of the Nobel Prizes in 1901 were:

  • Physics – William Roentgen
  • Chemistry – Jacobus Hoff
  • Medicine – Emil Adolph von Behring
  • Literature – Sully Prudhomme
  • Peace – Jean Dunant & Frederic Passy