Who was Alfred Nobel and why are the Nobel prizes named after him?

Swedish scientist created the awards after reading his own unflattering obituary - published prematurely by mistake

A bust of Alfred Nobel outside Bjoerkborn Manor, his summer home in the last years of his life. AFP
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Alfred Bernhard Nobel was the man whose vision and funds led to the Nobel prizes, arguably the world's most famous and respected awards.

He was a 19th century scientist famous for inventing dynamite as a safer way of using nitroglycerine. It was patented in 1867.

Nobel held 355 patents in his life, but it appears his greatest contribution to science was partly the result of seeing an erroneously published obituary that called him a war profiteer.

Why are the Nobel Prizes named after him?

After seeing the obit — published by mistake when his brother died — he was inspired to create the Nobels and laid out bequests in his will to fund them.

On November 27, 1895, Nobel signed a will that laid out a plan and provided the money to finance the honours. He died the next year.

Nobel left relatives some money but most of it went into creating the awards in physics, chemistry, Physiology or medicine, literature, Economics, and Peace.

He ordered that the remaining estate should be used to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind”.

His family initially opposed creating the Nobel Prize, and the prize awarders he named in the will also refused follow requests from Nobel. It was five years before the first Nobel Prize could be awarded in 1901.

Who was Alfred Nobel?

Nobel was a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which his will charged with choosing the Nobel laureates in physics and in chemistry.

He was born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833, into a family of scientists.

Nobel was fluent in several languages, and wrote poetry and drama.

He travelled for much of his life, maintaining companies in Europe and America while lived in Paris, Hamburg and other places.

In 1894, he bought Bofors-Gullspang, a property that included Bjorkborn Manor, which became his last residence in Sweden.

He would spend summers at Bjorkborn and the manor house is now a museum. On 10 December 1896, he died in Sanremo, Italy.

Updated: October 05, 2022, 6:30 AM