Nobel, the guilty prize

Omar López Mato *

He wrote his will allocating his fortune to prizes, without distinction of nationality, in different branches of knowledge and among those who fight for peace.

Nobel the guilty prize

Alfred Nobel died twice: the best known, the one we commemorate today, on December 10, 1896, and again, in fiction, in 1888.

By then, Alfred Nobel was known to the world for having invented dynamite, although this was only one of the 355 patents he registered in his lifetime.

A descendant of a family of engineers, he was only 9 years old when his father was hired to work in Russia where he and his brothers received a careful education.

In 1857 he obtained his first patent for a gas meter. He was then 27 years old.

In 1863, he returned to his native Sweden where he continued the investigations started years earlier on explosives.

A year later, a winery exploded that used to prepare nitroglycerin, an explosive developed by Ascanio Sobrero. On that occasion, five people died, including his younger brother, Emil.

This tragic event prompted him to study how to stabilize explosives to make them safer.

That same year he developed a mercury detonation and, two years later, dynamite that gained him worldwide fame.

Years later he invented gelignite, an even more stable explosive.

Despite so many developments, much of the fortune that he was able to amass throughout his life came from the family business of mining in the Caspian Sea.

A nobleman and literature

At the same time, Alfred developed an intense literary activity in which his poems in English and his work, Nemesis, inspired by the life of Beatrice Cenci, an Italian nobleman who murdered the father who harassed her, stand out.

However, this work was destroyed by his family as scandalous and blasphemous.

“A loner without books and without ink is a dead man in life,” Nobel used to say in frank self-reference.

A lonely man, only two romances were known to him in his life, one of them with the pacifist Bertha von Suttner, an Austrian noblewoman descended from a traditional military family. They met in 1876 when Bertha responded to an ad that Nobel was looking for a secretary.

The labor relationship was brief, but the two had a prolonged exchange of letters that lasted until the end of the engineer’s days.

Her book, Down with Arms, became a milestone in Bertha’s peace career.

In a letter addressed to Nobel, in 1893, he urged him to create a prize for those individuals who promoted peace.

For this reason, Bertha von Suttner was a candidate for the award created by her friend since 1901, although she only received the award in 1905.

“The merchant of death”

By then Nobel had died twice.

In 1888 his brother died, but a newspaper believed that the deceased was Alfred and called him: “The merchant of death”, a man who had become rich by finding “ways to kill people more quickly.”

This description shocked Alfred who reflected on how he would be remembered by history.

For this reason he wrote his will allocating his fortune to the prizes that were distributed annually, without distinction of nationality, in different branches of knowledge and among those who, like his friend Bertha, fought for peace among men, although he expressed his skepticism in regarding its result (it should be noted that Adolf Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini were candidates to receive this award). Nobel believed that his powerful explosives might have a greater deterrent value in achieving peace.

Nobel died in San Remo, Italy, from a brain hemorrhage.

An element, the Nobelium and a crater on the moon bear the name of this man who died twice, who established the prize most desired by scientists, writers and politicians and who affirmed, despite the enormous accumulated fortune, that “satisfaction it is the only true wealth ”.

* Doctor, researcher of history and art and director of the site

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Nobel, the guilty prize