Alfred Nobel

A factfile on the inventor of dynamite.

Alfred was born in Stockholm (Sweden) on October 21st 1883. Over his lifetime he lived in many different countries. This led him to consider himself a “world citizen”. Between 1850 and 1863 he travelled through Germany, France and America studying Chemical Engineering. In 1852, he and his father worked on developing nitro-glycerine for use commercially and in the Russian army. This was a highly dangerous and unstable substance, and he wanted to find a way of manufacturing it safely. In 1864 he dedicated his life to explosives, particularly nitro-glycerine. His experiments, however, proved deadly; on September 3rd 1864, an explosion at the Heleneborg factory killed five people (including Emil, Alfred’s younger brother).

In 1867, Alfred patented Dynamite, his new invention. He has discovered that mixing nitro-glycerine with “kieselgur” (soft sedimentary rock) made it considerably easier to use. He also found that dynamite could easily be shaped to fit drilling holes, which made his invention a vital part of nearly all construction work from then on. Having perfected the explosive, Alfred then created a “blasting cap” for the rods of dynamite, which allowed them to be detonated by lighting a fuse. Over the next few years, dynamite became a huge success. Alfred travelled around the world, founding factories and laboratories in over twenty different countries. Dynamite, however, was not his only creation; he also helped to develop synthetic versions of leather, rubber and silk. Over his lifetime he accumulated over three hundred patents.

On December 10th, 1896, Alfred Nobel passed away in San Remo, Italy. Prior to this he had written a will asking for his money to be spent on prizes for people who had performed exceedingly well in one of five different fields:

  • Chemistry

  • Physics

  • Literature

  • Peace

  • Physiology or Medicine

These prizes have been awarded nearly every year since 1901, and are considered the highest praise that any scientist could hope for.

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