Sunday, 26 August 2012

Nobel Prizes ...


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.

Nobel Prize

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.

Baku 1861



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

Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

27 comments:

Jo said...

I had never really thought much about Alfred Nobel the person. I am glad his obituary was premature, the prizes are such an encouragement. Thanks Hilary for your usual informative blog.

Susan Roebuck said...

Fate played an important role, didn't it? If the premature obituary hadn't been written, Alfred might not have changed his mind about the Baku project. Amazing. I didn't know any of that except that he was Swedish (hence, probably, the family's humanitarianism). The world needs more Nobel families. Thanks for the post!

Clarissa Draper said...

What an interesting history! I know about the prize but never knew much about the person. Thanks for this insight.

L.G.Smith said...

Yes, reading about your own death (prematurely) could inspire a few changes! Interesting history behind the Nobel.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Jo .. nor had I - so I was fascinated with the Nobel family's history .. good to know you enjoyed the post - thanks ...

@ Susan - talk about fate intervening .. perhaps the Nobel family were the instigators of humanitarianism in Scandinavia .. and yes we definitely need more Nobels ...

@ Clarissa - glad you found it interesting .. and I too didn't know much about the Nobels - and their background ..

@ Luana - I'd be surprised if I read mine that would be for sure! At least we get a chance to rethink our 'legacy' ...

Delighted you all enjoyed this brief back history .. cheers Hilary

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never knew the history of the prize or the man. And hope I never read my own obituary!

Lynn said...

So interesting - and I'm so glad they left that legacy.

Chuck said...

I too never knew any of this history...I always enjoy a day when I truly learn something new...particularly from my blogging friends! Thanks Hilary!

Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Can't say that I blame him. I wouldn't want to be remembered as a "merchant of death" either! Thanks for all the info.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Alex - he must have been very surprised to find the info out via a French newspaper .. the wrong obituary appearing does happen occasionally ..

@ Lynn - life would be different today without the five Nobel Prizes and like you I'm glad they left that legacy ..

@ Chuck - I seem to live and learn now .. just that thought about the Nobel Prize taught me a snippet of history ..

@ Susan - well with that I agree .. I'd be changing my will, if my obituary popped up rather unexpectedly ...

Thanks Alex, Lynn, Chuck and Susan .. glad you appreciated a little background to the Nobel Prizes .. have good weeks - Hilary

oceangirl said...

So interesting and very informative Hilary. I wonder why I was never curious of what is this interesting. Thank you.

Ciara said...

My father just had an obituary written for him. It does make you pause and think. I never knew the story of the Nobel's. Thanks for sharing this.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Very interesting post, Hilary! I found it interesting that the Nobel brothers were also strong humanitarians--Ludvig was certainly well ahead of his time in seeing the need for good working conditions. Of course we know today that it increases productivity, but that wasn't something many though of back then.

They certainly had a variety of interests and brilliant minds. I think the Noble Prize foundation was a way to also honor the family's accomplishments too. The need to recognize what questing minds can do.

Sia McKye's Thoughts...OVER COFFEE

Tina said...

As a half-Swede (American mother, Scotch-Irish descent) and 100% Swedish Dad, I've always felt proud that the Nobel Prizes came originally from Sweden. However, I didn't know the history at all. Thanks for serving it up in such a deliciously digestible version!
Tina @ Life is Good

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ OceanGirl - we often don't think of things do we - so I'm glad you appreciated this information ..

@ Ciara - what a strange co-incidence ... I'm glad he's still with us. Gosh how uncomfortable for him ... The Nobel family certainly changed life as we know it .. in many ways.

@ Sia - glad you picked up the humanitarian aspects .. I thought they were worth putting in - and today we are paying more attention to working conditions aren't we - if we could get everyone to live happily ever after in compassion and care for all then we'd achieve something. Be prepared to see others' point of view.

The Nobel family were very accomplished weren't they .. and it's good to see the acknowledgements for their achievements.

I like your phrase .. "the need to recognise what questing minds can do".

@ Tina - I wondered if you'd pick this up - home from home! Glad it made sense .. quite difficult geographically 150 years ago ... but interesting to find out more about.

Cheers OceanGirl, Ciara, Sia and the half Swedish Tina! Enjoy the week .. Hilary

Friko said...

So that's what happens when you suddenly come face to face with your own mortality and the way the world might look upon you.

Very interesting, I had no idea about the reason for the Nobel prize.

Friko said...

So that's what happens when you suddenly come face to face with your own mortality and the way the world might look upon you.

Very interesting, I had no idea about the reason for the Nobel prize.

Annalisa Crawford said...

Interesting stuff. As others have said, it was a good thing the obituary was printed early. Such an important legacy recognition may have been lost.

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

This is fascinating stuff, Hilary. To think he was once a child. Sounds like he had an interesting life. It really does matter what your parents strive to be.

Gina Gao said...

I've never really thought of the actual person behind the award. Thanks for sharing this information!

www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Friko - it must have shocked him .. and what a jolt into action it was to be able to recognise those whose ideas are benefiting others.

@ Annalisa - like you say .. such an important legacy with the recognition of work done by others .. thankfully he saw the early obituary.

@ Joylene - that child thing .. the Nobel brothers were very industrious from the word go - all encouraged to learn new things .. his parents strived, failed, succeeded, and travelled and tried new things ... he was encouraged (being the 3rd child helped) to broaden his horizons .. but they were obviously very clever.

@ Gina - good to see you .. and glad you enjoyed the post

Thanks Friko, Annalisa, Joylene and Gina .. good to see you - cheers Hilary

Teresa Coltrin@Journaling Woman said...

This is so interesting. Thanks Hilary.

Susanne Drazic said...

Hi, Hilary! I found the history of the Nobel Prizes very interesting.

Karen Lange said...

You know, I've heard about this story but never in such good detail. Thank you, Hilary! You have a way of bringing history life and relevance.

Blessings for your week,
Karen

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Teresa .. glad you enjoyed the post - thanks.

@ Susanne .. you too - many thanks

@ Karen .. appreciate your comment and glad you enjoyed the little background ..

Cheers Teresa, Susanne and Karen - Hilary

juliet said...

fascinating information. Thank you HIlary, I really enjoyed reading this post.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Juliet .. pleasure - so happy you enjoyed the 'story' .. cheers Hilary