Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel bigraphy, stories - Chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite

Alfred Nobel : biography

21 October 1833 – 10 December 1896

Alfred Bernhard Nobel ( 21 October 1833 – 10 December 1896) was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. He was the inventor of dynamite. Nobel also owned Bofors, which he had redirected from its previous role as primarily an iron and steel producer to a major manufacturer of cannon and other armaments. Nobel held 350 different patents, dynamite being the most famous. He used his fortune to posthumously institute the Nobel Prizes. The synthetic element nobelium was named after him. His name also survives in modern-day companies such as Dynamit Nobel and Akzo Nobel, which are descendants of the companies Nobel himself established.


Nobel found that when nitroglycerin was incorporated in an absorbent inert substance like kieselguhr (diatomaceous earth) it became safer and more convenient to handle, and this mixture he patented in 1867 as ‘dynamite’. Nobel demonstrated his explosive for the first time that year, at a quarry in Redhill, Surrey, England. In order to help reestablish his name and improve the image of his business from the earlier controversies associated with the dangerous explosives, Nobel had also considered naming the highly powerful substance "Nobel’s Safety Powder", but settled with Dynamite instead, referring to the Greek word for ‘power’.

Nobel later on combined nitroglycerin with various nitrocellulose compounds, similar to collodion, but settled on a more efficient recipe combining another nitrate explosive, and obtained a transparent, jelly-like substance, which was a more powerful explosive than dynamite. ‘Gelignite’, or blasting gelatin, as it was named, was patented in 1876; and was followed by a host of similar combinations, modified by the addition of potassium nitrate and various other substances. Gelignite was more stable, transportable and conveniently formed to fit into bored holes, like those used in drilling and mining, than the previously used compounds and was adopted as the standard technology for mining in the Age of Engineering bringing Nobel a great amount of financial success, though at a significant cost to his health. An off-shoot of this research resulted in Nobel’s invention of ballistite, the precursor of many modern smokeless powder explosives and still used as a rocket propellant.

Life and career

Born in Stockholm, Alfred Nobel was the fourth son of Immanuel Nobel (1801–1872), an inventor and engineer, and Karolina Andriette (Ahlsell) Nobel (1805–1889). The couple married in 1827 and had eight children. The family was impoverished, and only Alfred and his three brothers survived past childhood.Encyclopedia of Modern Europe: Europe 1789–1914: Encyclopedia of the Age of Industry and Empire, "Alfred Nobel", 2006 Thomson Gale. Through his father, Alfred Nobel was a descendant of the Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck (1630–1702),Schück, Henrik, Ragnar Sohlman, Anders Österling, Carl Gustaf Bernhard, the Nobel Foundation, and Wilhelm Odelberg, eds. Nobel: The Man and His Prizes. 1950. 3rd ed. Coordinating Ed., Wilhelm Odelberg. New York: American Elsevier Publishing Company, Inc., 1972, p. 14. ISBN 0-444-00117-4, ISBN 978-0-444-00117-7. (Originally published in Swedish as Nobelprisen 50 år: forskare, diktare, fredskämpar.) and in his turn the boy was interested in engineering, particularly explosives, learning the basic principles from his father at a young age. Following various business failures, Nobel’s father moved to Saint Petersburg in 1837 and grew successful there as a manufacturer of machine tools and explosives. He invented modern plywood and started work on the "torpedo". In 1842, the family joined him in the city. Now prosperous, his parents were able to send Nobel to private tutors and the boy excelled in his studies, particularly in chemistry and languages, achieving fluency in English, French, German, and Russian. For 18 months, during 1841–1842, Nobel went to the only school he ever attended as a child, the Jacobs Apologistic School in Stockholm. As a young man, Nobel studied with chemist Nikolai Zinin; then, in 1850, went to Paris to further the work; and, at 18, he went to the United States for four years to study chemistry, collaborating for a short period under inventor John Ericsson, who designed the American Civil War ironclad USS Monitor. Nobel filed his first patent, for a gas meter, in 1857.Carlisle, Rodney (2004). , p. 256. John Wiley & Songs, Inc., New Jersey. ISBN 0-471-24410-4.