One may wonder how the merchant of death’s false demise sparked the Nobel prizes in the late 1880s. In April 1888, a French newspaper wrote a not very flattering article on Alfred Nobel’s death. The only problem was that the Swedish inventor was not dead by that time.
Yet, he had the rare opportunity to learn how people will remember him after his death. And the findings were not heart warming. The newspaper that wrote his obituary instead of writing about the recent death of his brother, Ludvig, called him a ‘merchant of death’ and was generally happy that he who made money off mass-destruction arms was finally gone.
According to the article, Nobel “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” These words pierced Nobel to the heart. He didn’t want to leave behind such legacy so he thought of ways to undo the harm. He, eventually, came up with the idea to reward people that discover or do things that help humanity take a step forward.
So he set aside a large amount of his estate to fund the Nobel Prizes for chemistry, physics, literature, medicine, and peace. The Nobel Prize in Economics was established post-mortem by his home country’s central bank in his honor. In 2008, the amount of money left to fund the prizes was around $250 million.
Alfred Nobel’s father was also a businessman that liked to blow things up. So, you may say that the passion for explosives ran in his family. The naval mines sold by his father’s factory were used by the Russians in a battle against the British navy at the gates of St. Petersburg in the Crimean War.
Though he was a genius, Alfred never attended college or earned a degree. He was ‘home-schooled’ by a world-renown French chemist, and several other private tutors. In his teens he was already fluent in five languages including English, German, and Russian. When he was 24 years old he earned his first patent in a series of more than 350.
But his most famous invention was the dynamite, which helped people build faster tunnels and canals, but it was also used in wars and to do harm. People of his time used to call him a ‘genius businessman’ or a ‘perpetual inventor.’
After the false obituary that helped us see how the merchant of death’s false demise sparked the Nobel prizes he lived eight more years. So, he had plenty of time to build up a better posthumous reputation.
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