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
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
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
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in the 21st century, especially for underwater applications although many, more stable types of explosives have now superseded it.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
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.
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