Alfred Nobel was born on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden to Immanuel and Andriette Nobel. His family was established in the scientific world with his ancestor Olof Rudbeck, a well-knwon Swedish scientist in the 17th century. His father was also prolific in the engineering field and invented plywood.
Even though Alfred's mother was wealthy, her husband had to declare bankruptcy after some unlucky events in his construction business. In 1837, Immanuel Nobel moved to Finland and then in Saint Petersburg, Russia. After five years of hard work, he was successful enough working for the Russian army and brought his family back to him.
Travels Broaden the Minds
Alfred and his three brothers (Robert, Ludwig and Emil) received private lessons and at 17, he was fluent in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. His father sent him abroad to study chemistry, thinking that Alfred's interest in poetry was not useful for an engineer. His travels led him to Sweden, Germany, France and the United States.
In Paris, his favorite city, he met the inventor of nitroglycerin, a young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero. Since it is a very unstable and explosive liquid, it was too dangerous to an everyday use. But that did not scared Alfred away and he saw the potential of the liquid for his father business in Russia.
During the Crimean War, the Nobel family faced bankruptcy again and returned to Sweden, except for two of Alfred's brothers who stayed in St. Petersburg and successfully save their enterprise in the oil industry.
From Nitroglycerin to Dynamite
In 1862, Alfred Nobel put all his efforts in developing nitroglycerin and stabilizing it. Experimenting with this substance is highly unsafe and in 1863, his little brother Emil and others coworkers were killed in an explosion. That accident forced him to move his facilities outside of the city limits for safety.
The family tragedy did not stop him in doing research on nitroglycerin. He try to mix some elements to the liquid in order to stabilize it. He succeeded with kieselguhr, a siliceous sedimentary rock and obtained a paste that he called dynamite.
Adding to that discovery, he invented and a detonator for his dynamite. Not just an inventor, Alfred Nobel was also a very good business man and monetized his exploding paste all over the world.
"Europe's Richest Vagabond"
In 1873, Alfred Nobel settled in Paris. But as Victor Hugo called him "Europe's Richest Vagabond", he was always traveling or working in a laboratory.
In 1891, he relocated in San Remo, Italy after a quarrel with the French government about ballistic. He died there on December 10, 1896.
The Nobel Foundation
At the time of his death, Alfred Nobel was a very wealthy man and used most of his money to create the Nobel Foundation. He specifically described in his will that the foundation had to reward the Nobel Prize to people who demonstrated greatness in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.
His will was the source of controversy. His family was against it and awarded people refused to follow his conditions. After five years, in 1901, the foundation finally awarded its first Nobel Prize.