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Title : History of the Nobel Prizes Previous topic PreviousNext Next topic

The Nobel Prize is a set of annual international awards bestowed in a number of categories by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and/or scientific advances. The will of the Swedish philanthropist inventor Alfred Nobel established the prizes in 1895. The prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace were first awarded in 1901. The Nobel Prize is widely regarded as the most prestigious award available in the fields of literature, medicine, physics, chemistry, peace, and economics.The Peace Prize is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the other prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awards the Nobel Prize in Physics, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences; the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institute awards the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine; the Swedish Academy grants the Nobel Prize in Literature; and the Nobel Peace Prize is not awarded by a Swedish organization but by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Alfred Nobel was born on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden into family of Engineers. He was a chemist, engineer, and inventor. Immanuel Nobel, an architect, builder, and inventor, opened a machine shop in St. Petersburg and was soon very successful with contracts from the Russian government to build defense weapons.

Alfred Nobel found interests in chemistry and physics. However his primary interests were in literature and poetry. His father disliked this and sent him off for training in chemical engineering.

Because of his father's success, Alfred was tutored at home until the age of 16. Yet, many consider Alfred Nobel a mostly self-educated man. Besides being a trained chemist, Alfred was an avid reader of literature and was fluent in English, German, French, Swedish, and Russian. Alfred also spent two years traveling. He spent much of this time working in a laboratory in Paris, but also traveled to the United States. Upon his return, Alfred worked in his father's factory. He worked there until his father went bankrupt in 1859.

The family moved back to Sweden, and Alfred soon began experimenting with explosives. In 1864, when Alfred was 29, a huge explosion in the family’s Swedish factory killed five people, including Alfred’s younger brother Emil. Dramatically affected by the event, Nobel set out to develop a safer explosive.

Nobel invented dynamite in 1867, a substance easier and safer to handle than the more unstable nitroglycerin. Dynamite was patented in the US and the UK and was used extensively in mining and the building of transport networks internationally.In 1875 Nobel invented gelignite, more stable and powerful than dynamite, and in 1887 patented ballistite, a forerunner of cordite.

Nobel was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1884, the same institution that would later select laureates for two of the Nobel prizes, and he received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1893.

Nobel's brothers Ludvig and Robert exploited oilfields along the Caspian Sea and became hugely rich in their own right. Nobel invested in these and amassed great wealth through the development of these new oil regions. During his life Nobel issued 350 patents internationally and by his death had established 90 armaments factories, despite his belief in pacifism.

Unfortunately, Alfred did not see peace in his time. Alfred Nobel, chemist and inventor, died alone on December 10, 1896 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Alfred Nobel had written several wills during his lifetime, but the last one was dated November 27, 1895 - a little over a year before he died.

Nobel's last will left approximately 94 percent of his worth to the establishment of five prizes (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace) to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind."

Though Nobel had proposed a very grandiose plan for the prizes in his will, there were a great many problems with the will.

· Relatives of Alfred Nobel were so shocked that many wanted the will contested.

·  The format of the will had formal defects which could have caused the will to be contested in France.

·  It was unclear which country Alfred had his legal residence. He was a Swedish citizen until age nine, but after that he had lived in Russia, France, and Italy without becoming a citizen. Nobel had been making plans for a final home for himself in Sweden when he died. The location of residency would determine what country's laws would govern the will and the estate. If determined to be France, the will could have been contested and French taxes would have been taken.

·   Because Nobel had wanted the Norwegian Storting (parliament) to choose the peace prize winner, many charged Nobel with a lack of patriotism.

·    The "fund" that was to implement the prizes did not yet exist and would have to be created.

·   The organizations that Nobel named in his will to award the prizes had not been asked to take on these duties prior to Nobel's death. Also, there was no plan to compensate these organizations for their work on the prizes.

·    The will did not state what should be done if no prize winners for a year were found.

Because of the incompleteness and other obstacles presented by Alfred's will, it took five years of hurdles before the Nobel Foundation could be established and the first prizes awarded.

On the fifth anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death, December 10, 1901, the first set of Nobel Prizes were awarded.

·    Chemistry: Jacobus H. van't Hoff

·    Physics: Wilhelm C. Röntgen

·    Physiology or Medicine: Emil A. von Behring

·     Literature: Rene F. A. Sully Prudhomme

·     Peace: Jean H. Dunant and Frédéric Passy

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