The legacy of Alfred Nobel has echoed far through the years, and it hasn’t stopped building momentum yet. The mere mention of a Nobel peace prize raises eyebrows. For years, it has been a sign of prestige and a true honor to hold such a title as being one of its few and rare recipients. The story of just how these awards began has enthralled many people for years.
When Alfred Nobel set up the Nobel prize awards in his last will and testament, it was a surprise to his heirs who knew nothing of his plans. They were equally shocked to discover the majority of the vast fortune that he had made was to go into funding them. Named after himself, many believe the funds set aside for the Nobel peace prizes to be a last gift of repentance for the deaths that occurred from his inventions and discoveries. The story of the burden’s that this fascinating man endured, and his final act of remorse have left more questions than answers.
Alfred Nobel came from modest beginnings. The son of a poor inventor, he lived to see four of his siblings pass away in his early childhood. Only he and three of his brothers survived out of eight children. Science came easily to him even as a small child. He became interested in explosives at a very early age, the basics of which were taught to him by his father who manufactured them. After he grew older, he met the inventor of nitroglycerine, and his fascination with its surreal power became so intense that it followed him for the rest of his life. This dangerous substance later took the life of his brother Emil when it blew up a shed that he was in. This left only his last two brothers Ludvig and Robert remaining. Undeterred, Alfred worked furiously to find a way to stabilize and control its raw power.
Alfred Nobel went on to invent a multitude of kinds of explosive devices that were used in wars, construction, and mining. Some of them included a jelly like substance that could be inserted into bored out holes called gelignite, and also cordite, ballistite, the blasting cap, dynamite, and the detonator. In total he held 355 patents. He also invented gunpowder which has been used in many types of guns. Even with all of his accomplished work, it was only through his investment in his brothers oilfields that he became wealthy.
Though he strangely believed himself to be a pacifist, his work took the lives of countless people and caused horrific damage and destruction. Though he is gone, his inventions are still being used to this day to harm people, brides, and buildings in wars. It is unclear if Alfred ever understood the countless lives that were lost because of him or if he carried any guilt because of what he had created. It is believed that it was his brother Ludvig’s death that might have caused a change of heart within him though. In 1888, several newspapers erroneously published an obituary for Alfred instead of his brother Ludvig. They called Alfred a “merchant of death” in the obituaries, and this brought great pain to him. It is believed that this was a part to the true beginnings of the Nobel peace prizes. He hoped to change his reputation so that he could be remembered after his death more positively. No proof of these supposed obituaries exist though, so it is unclear if it really happened at all. Alfred’s reputation was important to him though, and he had previously tried to change the name of dynamite to “safety powder” in hopes of repairing its reputation as well. One peace loving woman named Bertha von Suttner might have possibly had an influence on his decision to create the Nobel peace prizes. The Austrian countess was strongly against war and violence. She wrote Alfred regarding his production of weapons and explosives in hopes that he would stop, but he didn’t. Later on, Bertha herself was the first woman to ever receive a Nobel peace prize.
Some say that Alfred Nobel was successful in changing what people thought of him because now most people have forgotten about his early deadly work. Others disagree saying he left his funds in trusts for the Nobel peace prizes only because he never had a wife or any children to leave his money to. He had few family members remaining after his death, and only his brother Robert remained out of all his siblings. Alfred had undergone serious losses and heartache in his lifetime, and though he was fascinated by the chemical process that occurs to cause explosions, it is claimed that he had no desire to see anyone hurt by that which he created. Maybe, in a way, he hoped to tame the powerful substances so that they could be used for good instead of evil. It is hard to surmise this as a real possibility though because of the money that he made manufacturing explosives for many years.
The recipients of the coveted awards receive a hefty amount of money which is approximately 1.3 million dollars if they are the sole prize winner, or it is less if the award is shared among others. They are also awarded a diploma which is presented to them at an expensive awards dinner. As laid out in Alfred’s last will and testament, they also receive a medal that is made of a 24 carat plated 18 carat solid green gold piece featuring a picture of Alfred Nobel on it.
No one knows for sure what exactly Alfred’s true intent was in why he created the Nobel peace prizes for sure, but they have aided in supporting those responsible for many incredible scientific discoveries that have helped humanity and many others who have contributed to peace. Maybe, the most important part of the Nobel peace prizes that should be remembered is that they were started by a man who longed for peace but knew that humanity would only be satisfied with war.