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Alfred Nobel Biography Essay

Born in Stockholm in 1833 of Swedish parents, Alfred Nobel moved with his family to St. Petersburg, then the capital of Russia, at the age of nine. There his energetic and inventive father soon acquired a strong and respected position as an inventor and industrialist. Nobel subsequently lived in several countries and ultimately came to regard himself as a citizen of the world. Even so, he never gave up his Swedish citizenship. By virtue of the education he received in many countries, Nobel read, spoke and wrote fluently in five European languages: Swedish, Russian, English, French and German.

His numerous handwritten letters demonstrate his remarkable proficiency in all of them. He perfected his French when sent to Paris by his father in his late teens to study chemistry. His letters in French are particularly elegant. Those in English sometimes bear traces of the early nineteenth-century style generally associated with Byron and Shelley (his two favourite poets) and are remarkably free of grammatical and idiomatic errors. To his mother he always wrote in Swedish, which is also the language of the will he composed in Paris. The fields embraced by the prizes stipulated by the will reflect Nobel’s ersonal interests.

While he provided no prizes for architects, artists, composers or social scientists, he was generous to those working in physics, chemistry, physiology and medicinethe subjects he knew best himself, and in which he expected the greatest advances. Throughout his life he suffered from poor health and often took cures at watering places, less to drink the water than to rest. But he expected great improvements in medicine, and the profession has since realized many of them. Once he employed a young Swedish physiologist in Paris to test his own theories on blood transfusions.

Although these efforts were not successful, problems related to transfusions were later solved by an Austrian, Karl Landsteiner, who won the 1930 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. The Nobel Prize in Literature, too, reflects the donor’s personal predilections. From his early youth he had been a writer as well as an avid reader, but he later destroyed many of his adolescent poems written in Swedish. He did, however, save a long autobiographical poem in English and occasionally gave copies of it to intimate friends. He was always an omnivorous reader of books in all the languages he knew.

What he meant by the stipulation in his will of an idealistic tendency is shown by the books and authors he liked best. At the very time he composed his final will in 1895, he wrote enthusiastic letters about authors, among them Sweden’s Selma Lagerlf, who in 1909 was to become the first woman to receive the Prize in Literature. Nobel’s award for peace workers was just as personally motivated. His special recommendation of organizers and promoters of peace congresses shows that he had in mind his friend Baroness Bertha von Suttner of Austria, whose peace congresses in Rome and Berne he had supported financially.

While he had been concerned about the peace problem long before he met her, she undoubtedly stimulated his interest in it still further. In 1905 Baroness von Suttner won the Peace Prize. A question often asked is, Why was Norway picked to award the Peace Prize? Nobel himself gave no reason. It should be remembered, however, that during his lifetime, Sweden and Norway were still joined in a union; this was peacefully dissolved in 1905. When Nobel drew up his will, it may have been only natural for him to divide the prize- awarding responsibilities between the two parts of is homeland.

A contributing reason may also have been his admiration for the great Norwegian writer and patriot Bjrnstierne Bjrnson, winner of the Prize in Literature in 1903. The selection of Peace Prize winners was entrusted to a committee appointed by the Storting, or Norwegian Parliament. As a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Nobel thought this the appropriate body for the selection of laureates in physics and chemistry. Selection of winners of the Prize in Physiology or Medicine was delegated to the Karolinska Institute in

Stockholm, of which he had heard good reports. As for the Swedish Academy, which he put in charge of the Prize in Literature, Nobel may not have been so familiar with it, but he undoubtedly assumed that as a counterpart of the French Academy it was best qualified for the difficult task of selecting the laureates in literature. Nobel’s fortune Alfred Nobel’s great wealth can be attributed to his ability to combine the qualities of astute scientist and inventor with those of the far- sighted and dynamic industrialist. Alfred Nobel’s fortune was founded on his inventions.

At his death in 1896 he eld 355 patents, and it was around these that he had established companies in some ninety locations in twenty countries. Most of Nobel’s capital came from his industrial activities in Great Britain, France, Germany, Sweden and Russia. In his will, Nobel stipulated that the major part of his estate was to be converted into a foundation and invested in safe securities. Accordingly, SEK 31. 5 million (corresponding to some SEK 1. 5 billion today) was used to establish the Nobel Foundation.

The value of Nobel’s original capital has increased in real terms, its market value in 1995 being some SEK 2. illion. The Foundation is not connected with the companies around the world which still today bear Nobel’s name. The Nobel Prizes Experience had taught Alfred Nobel to dislike and distrust lawyers, and late in 1895 he made out his final will without any professional advice or assistance. This will, which replaced two previous ones made in 1889 and 1893, stipulated that the income from his estate, which on his death in 1896 amounted to SEK 33. 2 million, should be divided annually into five equal parts and distributed in the form of prizes to those who during the preceding year ave conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.

He prescribed that the prizes should be distributed as follows: One part to the person or persons who shall have made the most important discovery or invention in the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery in the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work of an idealistic tendency, and one art to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for holding and promoting peace congresses.

His will also prescribes that in the distribution of the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he is a Scandinavian or not. Legally, however, the will did not actually bequeath the estate itself to anyone, and when it was read in January 1897, it was strongly contested by some of his elatives. Furthermore, Nobel had not approached the different institutions concerned to ascertain if they were willing to assume responsibility for awarding the prizes. Politicians criticized the idea on the whole, and King Oskar II of Sweden and Norway was sceptical of it for various reasons.

More than three years elapsed before the matter was finally settled, and it was then decided to organize the Nobel Foundation as legatee and administrator of the Nobel fund capital, while the various bodies named in the will agreed to undertake the responsibility of awarding the prizes. A decisive role in securing the final victory by the establishing in 1900 of the Nobel Foundation was played by Nobel’s young collaborator, Ragnar Sohlman, who was named by Nobel Executor of the Will. Sohlman later became the Executive Director of the Foundation. The Nobel institutions There are five special Nobel Committees attached to the prize-awarding bodies. Each of these Committees has five members, and each Committee may call upon outside experts for additional advice.

The joint administrative body is the Nobel Foundation in Stockholm. The rincipal task of its Board of Directors is to administer the funds and other properties deriving from Alfred Nobel’s estate. The Prize in Economic Sciences The Bank of Sweden, at its tercentenary in 1968, instituted the Sveriges Riksbank (Bank of Sweden) Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, pledging an annual amount to the Nobel Foundation equal to one of the regular Nobel Prizes. The winner of the Prize in Economic Sciences is to be chosen each year by the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. Nobel Prize rules are followed regarding nomination of candidates, prize adjudication and ecision, and prize presentation.

The process of selection Those qualified to propose candidates for prizes are: previous Nobel Laureates in their respective fields; members of the prize- awarding bodies and of the Nobel Committees in the relevant spheres; professors in the various fields either at specific universities or those selected through special invitation by the respective prize-awarding bodies; chairmen of representative authors’ organizations (literature); members of certain international parliamentary or legal organizations (peace); members of parliaments and governments (peace). Anyone proposing himself for a Nobel Prize is automatically disqualified. It should be observed that only individuals belonging to these bodies have the right to propose a candidatenot the organization as such. Since neither the Swedish nor the Norwegian authorities have any influence whatsoever on the prize decisions, no official representation or support in favor of a certain candidate is of any avail.

The Committees examine the proposals which have to be at their disposal before February 1, and by early autumn their reports are submitted to the respective prize-awarding bodies. After the merits of the candidates have been discussed, the bodies announce their final decisions in mid-October. All proceedings of the prize-awarding bodies are secret. The presentation ceremonies The Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and the Prize in Economic Sciences are presented to the laureates by H. M. the King at a ceremony generally held in the Stockholm Concert Hall on December 10, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896 at Sanremo, Italy.

The Peace Prize presentation takes place on the same day at the Oslo City Hall. Each laureate receives a Nobel Gold Medal and a Nobel Diploma. The prize money, which varies according to the net income of the fund capital, is transferred after December 10 according to the laureate’s wishes. In 1995, the value of the Nobel Prizes was some SEK 7. 2 million per prize. The awards are widely recognized as the world’s highest civic honors. Besides spurring recipients and possible candidates to new efforts, they have served to make scientific and literary achievements, as well as humanitarian contributions, much more widely known than would otherwise have been the case.

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