Who was Alfred Nobel?


Alfred Nobel’s life was full of ironies and inconsistences. Like many remarkable men, he never earned a university degree, though he was an extremely gifted chemist.

Born in Sweden in 1833 into a family of engineers, young Alfred learned the fundamentals of explosives from his father Immanuel. Immanuel Nobel immigrated to Russia in 1839, seeking a fresh start after bankruptcy. Immanuel’s family left Stockholm to join him in St. Petersburg in 1840.

Later in 1850, Alfred Nobel left Russia to spend a year in Paris studying chemistry followed by four years in the United States, continuing his chemistry studies there. Upon his return to Russia, he worked in his father’s factory, which manufactured military equipment for the Crimean War. After the war had ended, the supply orders from the Russian army came to an halt, and as a result, the Nobel factory went bankrupt. Alfred and his parents returned to Sweden, where Nobel Junior soon began experimenting with explosives.

At that time, the only existing explosive for use in mines was black powder. However, a recently discovered explosive, nitroglycerin, turned out to be much more powerful, although it was highly unstable and, thus, dangerous. With this in mind, Alfred Nobel set out to develop an explosive both more potent than black powder and safer than pure nitroglycerin. In 1867, he eventually succeeded, patenting a mixture of nitroglycerine mixed with an absorbent. This was called “dynamite.”