A Biography of Alfred Nobel

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Alfred Nobel



Born in Stockholm in 1833 of Swedish parents, Alfred Nobel moved with his family to St. Peters burg, then the capital of Russia, at the age of nine. There his energetic and inventive father soon acquired a strong and respected position as an inventor and industrialist. Nobel subsequently lived in several countries and ultimately came to regard himself as a citizen of the world. Even so, he never gave up his Swedish citizenship.

By virtue of the education he received in many countries, Nobel read, spoke and wrote fluently in five European languages: Swedish, Russian, English, French and German. His numerous handwritten letters demonstrate his remarkable proficiency in all of them. He perfected his French when sent to Paris by his father in his late teens to study chemistry. His letters in French are particularly elegant.Those in English sometimes bear traces of the early nineteenth-century style generally associated with Byron and Shelley (his two favourite poets) and are remarkably free of grammatical and idiomatic errors. To his mother he always wrote in Swedish, which is also the language of the will he composed in Paris.The fields embraced by the prizes stipulated by the will reflect Nobel’s personal interests. While he provided no prizes for architects, artists composers or social scientists, he was generous to those working in physics,chemistry, physiology and medicine—the subjects he knew best himself, and in which he expected the greatest advances.



The Nobel Prizes:

Throughout his life he suffered from poor health and often took cures at watering places, “less to drink the water than to rest.” But he expected great improvements in medicine, and the profession has since realized many of them.Once he employed a young Swedish physiologist in Paris to test his own theories on blood transfusions. Although these efforts were not successful, problems related to transfusions were later solved by an Austrian, Karl Landsteiner, who won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Alfred-Noble Young

Alfred-Noble Young

The Nobel Prize in Literature, too, reflects the donor’s personal predilections.From his early youth he had been a writer as well as an avid reader, but he later destroyed many of his adolescent poems written in Swedish. He did, however,save a long autobiographical poem in English and occasionally gave copies of it to intimate friends. He was always an omnivorous reader of books in all the languages he knew. What he meant by the stipulation in his will of an “idealistic tendency” is shown by the books and authors he liked best. At the very time he composed his final will in 1895, he wrote enthusiastic letters about authors, among them Sweden’s Selma Lagerlöf, who in 1909 was to become the first woman to receive the Prize in Literature. Nobel’s award for peace workers was just as personally motivated. His special recommendation of “organizers and promoters of peace congresses” shows that he had in mind his friend Baroness Bertha von Suttner of Austria, whose peace congresses in Rome and Berne he had supported financially. While he had been concerned about the peace problem long before he met her, she undoubtedly stimulated his interest in it still further. In 1905 Baroness von Suttner won the Peace Prize.

Why was Norway picked to award the Peace Prize?.

A question often asked is, “Why was Norway picked to award the Peace Prize?”Nobel himself gave no reason. It should be remembered, however, that during his lifetime, Sweden and Norway were still joined in a union; this was peacefully dissolved in 1905. When Nobel drew up his will, it may have been only natural for him to divide the prize- awarding responsibilities between the two parts of his homeland. A contributing reason may also have been his admiration for the great Norwegian writer and patriot Bjørnstierne Bjørnson, winner of the Prize in Literature in 1903. The selection of Peace Prize winners was entrusted to a committee appointed by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament.

Alfred-Noble Coin

Alfred-Noble Coin

As a member of the Royal Swedish Sciences in Stockholm, Nobel thought this the appropriate body for the selection of laureates in physics and chemistry. Selection of winners of the Prize in Physiology or Medicine was delegated to the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, of which he had heard good reports. As for the Swedish Academy, which he put in charge of the Prize in Literature, Nobel may not have been so familiar with it, but he undoubtedly assumed that as a counterpart of the French Academy it was best qualified for the difficult task of selecting the laureates in literature.

The presentation ceremonies The Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiologyor Medicine, Literature and the Prize in Economic Sciences are presented to the  laureates by H.M. the King at a ceremony generally held in the Stockholm Concert Hall on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896 at Sanremo,Italy. The Peace Prize presentation takes place on the same day at the Oslo City Hall. Each laureate receives a Nobel Gold Medal and a Nobel Diploma. The prize money, which varies according to the net income of the fund capital, is transferred after December 10 according to the laureate’s wishes. In 1995, the value of the Nobel Prizes was some SEK 7.2 million per prize. The awards are widely recognized as the world’s highest civic honors. Besides spurring recipients and possible candidates to new efforts, they have served to make scientific and literary achievements, as well as humanitarian contributions,much more widely known than would otherwise have been the case.

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