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Alfred Nobel: From “Merchant of Death” to Pioneer of Nobel Prize

Alfred Nobel rewrote his Will to donate more than 90 percent of his life earnings to create a symbol of respect and honor for the people who contributed to the betterment of mankind, the symbol is now known as the Nobel Prize.

SNS | New Delhi |

Alfred Nobel, the man who created and left behind him the biggest legacy to acknowledge the best works for the mankind came out with the idea after having been infamously recognised as the “merchant of Death”.

Alfred Nobel, a chemist, engineer, inventor, businessman, and philanthropist from Sweden made numerous significant contributions to the field of science, holding a total of 355 patents during his lifetime. Dynamite was one of his most famous inventions, but unfortunately the invention got him the title of “merchant of Death”.

(Image Source: Wikipedia) Women mixing dynamite in Alfred’s factory.


Many saw his invention, which Alfred thought would end all wars, as a highly lethal product. When Alfred’s brother Ludvig died in 1888, a French newspaper accidentally published an obituary for Alfred that referred to him as the “merchant of death.”

(Image Source: Fake Obituary


As soon as Alfred read the obituary, he decided to rewrite his Will. Afraid to leave such a legacy behind, he decided to donate more than 90 percent of his life earnings to create a symbol of respect and honor for the people who contributed to the betterment of mankind.

(Image Source: Smithsonian Magazine) Nobel Prize


The symbol was named after Alfred Nobel’s name, the Nobel Prize. The prize had initially five categories, which were, chemistry, physics, medicine or physiology, literature, and peace. Later in the year 1969, Economics was also added as a category for the Nobel Prize.

According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded by a committee of five people chosen by the Norwegian Storting. The Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Storting was established in August 1897 as soon as the Storting accepted the assignment in April of the same year.

However, in Sweden, Alfred’s will sparked a long-running legal dispute with members of his family. The Norwegian Nobel Committee and the other prize-awarding bodies could not begin their work until this conflict was resolved and financial matters were successfully dealt with. Hence it took four to five years for the establishment of the Nobel Foundation in Sweden in 1900.

The Nobel Prize was awarded every year since 1901, except during the first and second World Wars.

The First Nobel Prizes, in the year 1901 were awarded to:

(Image Source: Science History Institute)
  • Chemistry: Jacobus H. van’t Hoff


(Image Source;
  • Physics: Wilhelm C. Röntgen


(Image Source:
  • Physiology or Medicine: Emil A. von Behring


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  • Literature: Rene F. A. Sully Prudhomme


(Image Source: Tagesschau)
  • Peace: Jean H. Dunant and Frédéric Passy