Alfred Nobel, for whom the Nobel Prizes were named, was born the son of Immanuel Nobel, an engineer and inventor, on October 13, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. After a few years of bankruptcy in Stockholm, Immanuel moved his family to St. Petersburg, Russia to start a new career in mechanics. He managed to open a successful workshop, building parts for the Russian Army.
Alfred gained a first-class education at St. Petersburg, studying with private teachers. He was especially interested in poetry and English. However, his father disapproved of those subjects and sent him to be train in chemical engineering.
Following his years at school, Alfred traveled and in a two-year period visited Sweden, Germany, the United States, and France. He eventually settled in Paris in 1859.
While in Paris, Nobel met an Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero. Sobrero introduced Nobel to nitroglycerin. He had invented it by mixing glycerin with sulphuric and nitric acid to form an explosive. A deadly problem with the substance was that it exploded unpredictably, particularly if it was subjected to heat or pressure. Nobel became interested in the substance, and decided to make it safe for uses in construction.
Nobel's scheme was put on hold when, in 1852, his family needed him to return and work in the family business of shipping military equipment for Russia's military. Tnanks to the Crimean War, his father's business was booming and they were sending out shipments of weapons each day. Although the business was prospering, it came to a sudden halt at the end of the war.
Nobel had used his time wisely while working for his father. The two of them had discovered how to make the nitroglycerin more stable by mixing it with silica. In 1863, Nobel returned to Stockholm, Sweden, and continued to work on the development of safer nitroglycerin. The next year, a massive nitroglycerin explosion in the research facility wiped out a large part of the building, killing his brother Emil and many other people. The accident convinced the city of Stockholm authorities that the experiments were too dangerous, and therefore banned any further testing.
These events compelled Nobel to move his experiments to a new location, which was a barge floating on Lake Malaren. There he tested his new ideas without trouble from authorities or harm to citizens.
He discovered serendipitously that nitroglycerin soaked in diatomaceous earth is deadened to impact; dynamite, the first manageable explosive stronger than black powder, was created. He patented his discovery in October 1867. One of his greatest inventions for the safe utilization of nitroglycerin was the use of a detonator and a fuse. He typically used the technique for blasting rock in hillsides for construction companies. Nobel initially marketed the dynamite as "Nobel's Safety Blasting Powder."
Following its debut, dynamite rapidly won acceptance as a more predictable substitute for nitroglycerin and gunpowder. Nobel vigorously defended his patent, swiftly quashing illegal imitations. He created companies and labs in more than 20 countries, and purchased the huge Swedish Bofors armaments plant. He worked on the development of synthetic rubber, imitation silk and numerous other patented items. By the time of his death, Nobel had garnered 355 patents and was extremely wealthy.
However, Nobel endured persistently poor health. In his latter years, he became more sick and restless. He was tormented by a sense of guilt for having created a substance that inflicted so much maiming and death. He recoiled from the idea that dynamite was used in conflicts when he had developed it for construction.
In his will signed on November 27, 1895, Nobel set up a fund of about $9 million. The interest was to be committed to annual prizes, one of which was for the most creative work in championing world peace. The Nobel Prize was born.
On December 10, 1896, Alfred Nobel succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage at his home in San Remo, Italy.