Alfred Nobel & His Prizes In addressing hope, Alfred Nobel referred to it as nature’s veil for hiding truth’s nakedness2. Such a statement encompasses the struggle associated with Nobels lifework. Alfred Nobels existence spanned many realms of thought and being. He was a scientist, a writer, a philosopher and humanitarian, and ultimately a philanthropist. It was probably this myriad of influences and inspirations that injected him into the core of friction between science and society, between knowledge and application.
This work will elucidate Nobels motivation for creating the Nobel Prize with the assertion that the prize is an instrument used to reconcile the incongruity between science and humanity. Alfred-Bernhard was born to his mother Caroline Andriette Nobel on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden.1 At birth he was a physically quiet and fragile infant, unlike his two older brothers, who were four and two years old respectively, and were quite energetic. Alfreds mother nourished me to health and cared for him with her bracing maternal touch. In the words of Erik Bergengren, it took all her tender care to keep his flickering life flame burning. She alone believed and succeeded when all others had given up hope.2 In the following years Alfred grew, although still not physically dynamic, his mind gained much strength in the form of knowledge and an interested insatiability.
Alfred writes of his school terms in the following poem: We find him now a boy. His weakness still makes him a stranger in the little world wherein he moves. When fellow-boys are playing he joins them not, a pensive looker-on; and thus debarred the pleasures of his age his mind keeps brooding over those to come.3 It is evident that Alfred felt he was physically incapable of joining with his classmates in their activities. Partly as a consequence of this Alfred gained the highest marks possible in the academic classes he took at school.2 His upbringing was an integral part of the formation of his inventive mind and logic as well as his persistence and endurance. The role of Immanuel Nobel, Alfreds father, was also crucial in molding Alfred into the man, inventor, and ingenious mind he became.
It was almost as if the will and ability to invent and innovate was passed down through the generations amongst Alfred and his ancestry. His family was descended from none other than Olof Rudbeck, the best-known technical genius of Sweden’s 17th century era as a Great Power in Northern Europe.3 Keeping this in mind and the fact that he was born into a family of engineers, namely, his father, we can plainly see a major avenue of influence on Alfred Nobel and his inventive ways of industry. Furthermore, having seen the source of his career choice we can now examine certain events that placed Alfred in the core of invention and industry. A year before Alfreds birth, the house he was soon to grace, lay in ashes, cradled by arms of smoke. This resulted in poverty for the family.
Immanuel Nobel found himself at a loss for capital and submerged in debt and deprivation. He took a loan from his brother in-law and began inventing again only to be disheartened again by an explosion in his factory.3 Faced with the reality and responsibility of having to provide for a sizeable family Immanuel looked east, to Russia. Sweden now represented the scene of his bankruptcy and business losses, so he decided to leave his native land and search for his pot of gold in Russia.3 Alfreds father eventually established a position in the Russian iron mills and was able to provide for private tutoring for his sons. Perhaps the only way to explain the breadth and profundity of Alfreds knowledge is to call him largely self-taught.3 Alfred was able to write in six different languages and took interest in various subjects of study; treating all of them with the utmost in significance. However, the episode of bankruptcy and paucity had left its blemish on Alfreds disposition and psyche.
As he matured he gained a certain reputation for being gloomy, sarcastic, and misanthropic.2 In the struggle to give Alfred and his brothers the material necessities Immanuel, their father, also bestowed upon them the full benefit ofmechanical and technical knowledges.4 There was always an inventive aroma in the air in the house of the Nobels. Such an approach to life and existence instilled in Alfred Nobel a respect for science and a fascination with scientific quests. In the mid 1800s Alfred began studying foreign languages. His ability to engage in discourse and write in multiple languages intensified his broad world outlook4, and afforded him an opportunity to become more cultured and worldly. Alfred lived in Paris for some time studying French and looking to establish a career. Soon after he traveled to America to study Engineering under a Swedish engineer, Ericsson, however Alfred did not stay long enough to gain the title of engineer.3 Evlanoff and Fluor in discussing Alfred Nobels experience with engineering make a distinction between Nobels mentality and that of an engineer. Engineering could never have suited Alfred.
He was no automaton of science, no robot duplicating technical operations of other men. Even at this time of youth, his scientific interests lay in working out his original ideas and schemes.3 Evidently, through his lifetime Alfred was an inventor. He was motivated by novel and original thought and did not wish to be a simple machination of the industrial process. He wanted to discover, learn, and apply, not simply apply. Along his travels and journeys Alfred realized that his primary interest was to be chemistry. He pursued a position in the free laboratory of the noted Professor Pelouze in Paris.4 In 1853 the Crimean war had begun.
It was this war that first introduced Alfred to the realm of explosives. His father and brothers were manufacturing sea mines for the Russian Tsar, Nicholas I.4 It is very likely that at this point in his life Alfred felt a yearning to improve upon the primitive 500-year old gunpowder being used at that time. Professor Zinin then introduced him, in 1855, to the problem of nitroglycerine. Many men, French, Swedish, Italian, and Russian cleared the way for Alfred Nobels work with dynamite. One of these men, Sobrero, is the one who actually discovered the compound nitroglycerine.
But, as his biographers Molinari and Quartieri observe, he did not know how to make practical use of his discovery.5 Sobrero had deemed nitroglycerine too dangerous for uses outside of medicine. However the onset of the Crimean War spurred Alfreds interest in its use as an explosive. Events following the end of the war and death of Nicholas I led to more hardship for the Nobel family. However, Alfreds love for invention and innovation had been instigated. Following a return to his mother country Alfred immediately commenced on his journey of discovery and invented a detonator in which a primary small scale explosion leads to a larger second explosion.3 After the legal documentation had been taken care of and Alfred had received the patent for the detonator he and his father began work on the production of nitroglycerine at Heleneborg. At this time Alfreds youngest brother Oscar-Emil also became involved with the work due to the …