Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born on October 21 1833, in Stockholm, Sweden, the fourth of Immanuel and Caroline Nobel’s eight children. Alfred was often sickly as a child, but he was always lively and curious about the world around him. Although he was a skilled engineer and ready inventor, Alfred’s father struggled to set up a profitable business in Sweden. When Alfred was 4, his father moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, to take a job manufacturing explosives. The family followed him in 1842. Alfred’s newly affluent parents sent him to private tutors in Russia, and he quickly mastered chemistry and became fluent in English, French, German and Russian as well as his native language, Swedish.
Alfred left Russia at the age of 18. After spending a year in Paris studying chemistry, he moved to the United States. After five years, he returned to Russia and began working in his father’s factory making military equipment for the Crimean War. In 1859, at the war’s end, the company went bankrupt. The family moved back to Sweden, and Alfred soon began experimenting with explosives. In 1864, when Alfred was 29, a huge explosion in the family’s Swedish factory killed five people, including Alfred’s younger brother Emil. Dramatically affected by the event, Nobel set out to develop a safer explosive. In 1867, he patented a mixture of nitroglycerin and an absorbent substance, producing what he named “Dynamite.”
In 1888, Alfred’s brother Ludvig died while in France. A French newspaper erroneously published Alfred’s obituary instead of Ludvig’s, and condemned Alfred for his invention of dynamite. Provoked by the event and disappointed with how he felt he might be remembered, Nobel set aside a bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes to honor men and women for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine and literature, and for working toward peace. Sweden’s central bank, Sveriges Riksbank, established the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1968 in honor of Alfred Nobel.
He died of a stroke on December 10 1896, in San Remo, Italy. After taxes and bequests to individuals, Nobel left 31,225,000 Swedish kronor (equivalent to 250 million U.S. dollars in 2008) to fund the Nobel Prizes.