“A man has only one life time. But history can remember you forever.” – National Treasure, Book of Secrets
It’s true, isn’t it?
How would you want the world to remember you when you’re gone? What would your legacy be? The same went through the brilliant mind of Alfred Nobel, who the world knows as the founder of the Nobel prize. In fact, that’s how the awards were born – As a legacy. Confused? Well, hear me out.
Alfred Nobel had a very weird childhood. Four of his siblings died because they were impoverished. But he survived, along with 3 more of his siblings. After moving from Sweden to Russia, his father established a business of manufacturing explosives and machine parts. He gained a lot of success and was equipped enough to send Alfred for private lessons. It helped Alfred grow a great deal, especially knowledge wise. The same knowledge that he employed to invent countless things. But this story is about one particular invention.
He had worked with a certain Ascanio Sobrero, who had invented nitroglycerin. Which was highly unstable & unpredictable. But Nobel wanted to control it, stabilise it and put it to good use. Although his intentions were honorable, he did lose a lot along the way. A small shed used for storing the nitroglycerin blew up, killing his younger brother in the process. Other minor accidents also followed, but he was determined to complete his project.
It took a few years but he got there. In 1867, aged 34, he finally invented something that was much more stable and safer – the dynamite!
While he went on to invent so much more, dynamite earned him a great fortune. About 20 years after his invention, in 1888, his other brother Ludvig died in Cannes. A French newspaper thought that it was Alfred who had passed away and so they decided to print this:
“The Merchant of Death is Dead”(“Le marchand de la mort est mort”)
“Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday,” it stated further.
He never wanted people dying for his cause. He was in fact a pacifist. But his inventions were being used in military weapons. May be unintentionally, but he had contributed to weapons of destruction.
What was printed in the papers though, did not go well with him. He did not want to be known for something like this after his death. His legacy beckoned defining. So he took a step that rewrote the history books forever. He put most of his fortune in a trust that would fund awards. Awards that came to be known as the Nobel Prize.
The prizes were to be given to people who made the greatest contributions to mankind in the fields of Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature and PEACE!
But was that enough? Alfred Nobel breathed his last on December 10, 1896 and the awards were first given out in 1901. It is also said that Bertha von Suttner, who had been in correspondence with Nobel in the later years of his life, was the inspiration behind the Peace Prize. Which, by the way, she went on to win in 1905. Becoming the first woman to do so.
In his lifetime, Alfred filed a total of 355 patents for his invention. But how noble was Alfred Nobel? He was condemned for his invention of the dynamite and honoured for creating the awards. He was called a ‘Merchant of Death’, but his legacy is defined by the fact that he gave everything in his will to award those who work for mankind, including peace. He always said he was a pacifist. But he also said: