The Nobel Prizes came to my mind when I was thinking about gold medals and Susan Roebuck’s query wondering why there was not a gold medal for literature ... which as she said I answered in my Cultural Olympiad post.
Alfred Nobel (1833 – 1896) is remembered for dynamite and the Nobel Prizes ... but the family’s background is interesting ... he was the third son born in Sweden into a family of engineers becoming a chemist, engineer and inventor.
His father lost his engineering business in St Petersburg and with his wife and two younger children (Alfred and Emil) moved back to Sweden.
|Montage: St Petersburg|
Ludvig (the 2nd eldest) stayed on in St Petersburg opening up an engineering factory producing cast-iron shells, which then became the largest manufacturer of gun carriages in Russia.
While running the factory, Ludvig asked their elder brother, Robert, to explore southern Russia for wood to make gun stocks for the Tsar’s military requirements. Robert found oil instead, and in 1876 they set up a distillery in Baku, Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea.
Alfred had joined in the various family engineering ventures in Sweden and Russia, Emil, the youngest brother, had too – but was killed in an explosion during an experiment.
Ludvig Nobel was a strong humanitarian as well as business man, full of ideas and vision. He introduced profit sharing and worked actively to improve working conditions in his factories. His humanity and social approach was unique for the time.
The Nobel brothers must have influenced each other greatly for this humanitarian legacy to be thought about let alone put into practice. Alfred’s fluency in languages, notably English, French, German and Russian brought other attributes to the table.
|Sweden (dark green), Europe (light green) and|
the eastern countries of Russia in dark gray
They invented all manner of things that are invaluable today ... plywood being one of them ... oil tankers, and better refineries, pipelines ... and of course explosives.
... their Wikipedia pages make interesting reading on the development of the oil industry via their investments in Baku and give an insight into life in Scandinavia/ Eastern Europe/ Western Asia in the 1800s ... before the Russia we know today came into existence.
Alfred amassed a fortune during his lifetime, with most of his wealth coming from his 355 inventions and investments, of which dynamite is the most famous ... but he also invented ballistite, a precursor to many smokeless military explosives, especially the British smokeless powder ‘cordite’.
The Nobel prizes came about by one of those unintended circumstances ... in 1888, Alfred was astonished to read his own obituary, titled “The merchant of death is dead”, in a French newspaper.
|Montage of Baku, Azerbaijan|
As it was Alfred’s brother, Ludvig, who had died, Alfred’s obituary was eight years premature ... but this inspired him to change his will ... he did not want to be remembered as the merchant of death ...
In his will, 1895, the Swedish philanthropist inventor Alfred Nobel established the disposition of prizes .... for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, while the Peace prize came into being in 1901.
The family agreed to Alfred’s investment in Baku being withdrawn, and this along with his Swedish fortune enabled the Nobel Prizes to be established.
|The Peace Prize logo|
Their administration and management is under the auspices of the Nobel Foundation, set up in 1900 ... while the selection of candidates and ultimate prize winner/s (maximum of 3 for any one category) is overseen by the various professional Swedish and Norwegian Committees.
So it has been for over a century that Nobel’s desire for a better legacy has been these prizes for those who confer the “greatest benefit of mankind” in the five categories ...
The journey from Olympia acknowledging sporting, artistic or cultural triumph rewarded with olive and laurel wreaths, to Nobel Prizes measured in millions of dollars received by candidates whose research has benefited mankind, to sporting records, perhaps an Olympic medal, and who, we hope sincerely, will encourage all citizens to lead the best life possible for the benefit of all ... perhaps ultimately to a Nobel Peace Prize ...
Link to Wikipedia - Alfred Nobel ... see from their his brother's pages etc
Susan Roebuck - reader and author
My previous post on the Cultural Olympiad
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