We’re all familiar with the famous Nobel Prize, namely the award given annually in recognition of academic or cultural achievements in Physics, Medicine or Physiology, Chemistry, Literature, and Peace. How did the Nobel Peace Prize come to be? Was Alfred Nobel a promoter of peace and global cooperation? Or was it merely a tactic to polish his image? In this article I will be providing a brief history of Alfred Nobel’s life and how he came up with the Nobel Prize.
Alfred Nobel was the son of an inventor, and grew up with extensive knowledge about chemistry and engineering. His family spent a lot of time trying to discover a safe way to use nitroglycerin, and didn’t stop even after a mishap in one of their factories which ended up killing many people, including Alfred’s brother. After numerous attempts, Alfred Nobel found a way to safely use nitroglycerin by mixing it with a certain soil, and thus created dynamite. The creation of dynamite greatly helped railroad companies by facilitating the demolition of earth’s surface, useful in order to build upon it. However, dynamite was quickly discovered to be very useful in the hands of the military, more specifically in the Spanish-American War. It didn’t take long for Nobel to be labelled “The Merchant of Death” as he was described as the one responsible for finding ways to kill people faster than ever before in 1888.
Some sources state that Nobel claimed to be a pacifist, and that he intended for dynamite to be used purely for industrial purposes. He was allegedly appalled by the accusations of him being a merchant of death. While others state that he was indeed in favor of militarization, as he thought of it as a means to achieve peace as he once stated “Perhaps my factories will put an end to war sooner than your congresses: on the day that two army corps can mutually annihilate each other in a second, all civilized nations will surely recoil with horror and disband their troops.”.
In 1895, a year before his death, Alfred Nobel wrote down in his final will where he wished to dedicate most of his fortunes to the creation of the Nobel Prizes, with a prize specifically dedicated to the pursuit of peace.
Since Nobel was allegedly crushed by the accusations of him being a “merchant of death” in the year 1888, why did he wait until after his death 8 years later for his idea of a “Nobel Prize” to launch? Why didn’t he start pursuing peace throughout his life? Was the Nobel Prize perhaps a tactic for him to improve his legacy? Maybe it was a way for him to make sure the actions he took throughout his life were overlooked, and that he was remembered mainly – or only – because of the Nobel Prize.