A Premature Obituary Inspired the Nobel Prizes

“Sun Facts Saturday”

The Nobel Prize

Most people have heard of the Nobel Prize.  It is the most prestigious award in the world.

Dr. Albert Nobel left his massive fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes. They are awarded to those who have conferred the “greatest benefit on mankind” in five fields: (1) physics, (2) chemistry, (3) medicine, (4) literature, and (5) peace.

Famous Nobel Prize Winners

Famous Nobel laureates include:

  • Albert Einstein (Physics, quantum physics, relativity)
  • Marie Curie (Physics, radiation)
  • Albert Fleming (Medicine, penicillin)
  • Jonas Salk (Medicine, polio vaccine)
  • Winston Churchill (Literature)
  • Earnest Hemingway (Literature)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (Peace)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. (Peace)
  • Mother Teresa (Peace)

Alfred Nobel – Inventor of Dynamite

Nobel Patents Dynamite (Historic Document) - On This Day

Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a Swedish chemist and inventor.  He held over 330 different patents

His most famous invention was dynamite. This was an immediate commercial success.  Dynamite was used throughout the world in mining.  It replaced volatile nitroglycerin.

Dr. Nobel thought that the destructive force of dynamite would lead to world peace.  “My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.”  He was wrong.

The Premature Obituary – “The Merchant of Death is Dead”

When Alfred’s brother Ludwig died in 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published Alfred’s obituary. Reading his own obituary, Dr. Nobel was very disturbed to learn his public image.

The newspaper condemned Alfred for inventing dynamite, and gave him the infamous nickname, “The Merchant of Death.” The obituary concluded: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Apparently, the premature obituary was a wake-up call.  Alfred did not want to be only remembered as “The Merchant of Death.

So, a year before his death, Nobel rewrote his Last Will and Testament.   He left his massive fortune to create a series of five prizes, with large cash awards, for those who confer the “greatest benefit on mankind.”  

In 1901, the Nobel Prizes were handed out for the first time. The inaugural prizes went to, Clarissa Harlowe Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, and W.C Rontgen, the discoverer of the X-ray.

(See: “Alfred Nobel,” Britannica.com; “Alfred Nobel,” Wikipedia; “Alfred Nobel created the Nobel Prize as a false obituary declared him “The Merchant of Death,” Oct 14, 2016, Vintage News; “Did a Premature Obituary Inspire the Nobel Prize,” History, Dec 9, 2016.)


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