The Nobel Prizes: History and First Winners


Being a pacifist at heart and an inventor by nature, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, thinking that his invention would put an end to all wars. Nevertheless, a great many others recognized that dynamite was an extremely deadly creation. When Alfred’s brother Ludvig died in 1888 in Paris, a French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary for Alfred, calling him the “merchant of death”.

As Nobel did not want to go down in history with this terrible epitaph, he created a will on November 27, 1895 that was focused on laying down the foundations for the famous Nobel Prize. This will tremendously shocked his family and relatives, some of whom contested it, whereas the format of the will itself did have several defects.

Given that Nobel had wanted the Norwegian parliament to choose the prize winner, many accused Nobel of a lack of patriotism. Moreover, the will did not state what would happen to the prize in a year in which no winners were found. Due to this and other obstacles, it took five years before the Nobel Foundation could be created, with the first Nobel Prizes awarded.

The first Nobel Prizes were awarded, as follows: Jacobus van’t Hoff won in chemistry; Wilhelm Röntgen won in physics; Emil von Behring won in physiology and medicine; Rene Suly Prudhomme won in literature; Jean Dunant and Frédéric Passy won for peace.