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Untitled Essay, Research Paper

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 21, 1833.(Encarta)

His father Immanuel Nobel was an engineer and inventor who built bridges

and buildings in Stockholm. In connection with his construction work Immanuel

Nobel also experimented with different techniques of blasting rock. Alfred’s

mother, Andrietta Ahlsell came from a wealthy family. Due to misfortunes

in the construction work caused by the loss of some barges of building material,

Immanuel Nobel was forced into bankruptcy the same year Alfred Nobel was

born. In 1837, Immanuel Nobel left Stockholm and his family to start a new

career in Finland and in Russia. To support the family, Andrietta Nobel started

a grocery store which provided a modest income. Meanwhile Immanuel Nobel

was successful in his new enterprise in St. Petersburg, Russia. He started

a mechanical workshop which provided equipment for the Russian army and he

also convinced the Tsar and his generals that naval mines could be used to

block enemy naval ships from threatening the city. The naval mines designed

by Immanuel Nobel were simple devices consisting of submerged wooden casks

filled with gun powder. Anchored below the surface of the Gulf of Finland

they effectively deterred the British Royal Navy from moving into firing

range of St. Petersburg during the Crimean war (1853-1856).Immanuel Nobel was also a pioneer in arms manufacture and in designing steam

engines. Successful in his industrial and business ventures, Immanuel Nobel

was able, in 1842, to bring his family to St. Petersburg.

There, his sons were given a first class education by private teachers. The

training included natural sciences, languages and literature. By the age

of 17, Alfred Nobel was fluent in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German.

His primary interests were in English literature and poetry as well as in

chemistry and physics. Alfred’s father, who wanted his sons to join his

enterprise as engineers, disliked Alfred’s interest in poetry and found his

son rather introverted. In order to widen Alfred’s horizons his father sent

him abroad for further training in chemical engineering. During a two year

period, Alfred Nobel visited Sweden, Germany, France and the United

States.(Schuck p. 113) In Paris, the city he came to like best, he worked

in the private laboratory of Professor T.J. Pelouze, a famous chemist. There

he met the young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero who, three years earlier,

had invented nitroglycerin, a highly explosive liquid. Nitroglycerin was

produced by mixing glycerin with sulfuric and nitric acid. It was considered

too dangerous to be of any practical use.(Schuck p. 87) Although its explosive

power greatly exceeded that of gun powder, the liquid would explode in a

very unpredictable manner if subjected to heat and pressure.Alfred Nobel became very interested in nitroglycerin and how it could be

put to practical use in construction work. He also realized that the safety

problems had to be solved and a method had to be developed for the controlled

detonation of nitroglycerin. In the United States he visited John Ericsson,

the Swedish-American engineer who had developed the screw propeller for ships.

In 1852, Alfred Nobel was asked to come back and work in the family enterprise

which was booming because of its deliveries to the Russian army. Together

with his father he performed experiments to develop nitroglycerin as a

commercially and technically useful explosive. As the war ended and conditions

changed, Immanuel Nobel was again forced into bankruptcy. Immanuel and two

of his sons, Alfred and Emil, left St. Petersburg together and returned to

Stockholm. His other two sons, Robert and Ludvig, remained in St. Petersburg.

With some difficulties they managed to salvage the family enterprise and

then went on to develop the oil industry in the southern part of the Russian

empire. They were very successful and became some of the wealthiest persons

of their time. (Compton’s)After his return to Sweden in 1863, Alfred Nobel concentrated on developing

nitroglycerin as an explosive. Several explosions, including one (1864) in

which his brother Emil and several other persons were killed, convinced the

authorities that nitroglycerin production was exceedingly dangerous. They

forbade further experimentation with nitroglycerin within the Stockholm city

limits and Alfred Nobel had to move his experimentation to a barge anchored

on Lake Mälaren. Alfred was not discouraged and in 1864 he was able

to start mass production of nitroglycerin. To make the handling of nitroglycerin

safer Alfred Nobel experimented with different additives. He soon found that

mixing nitroglycerin with silica would turn the liquid into a paste which

could be shaped into rods of a size and form suitable for insertion into

drilling holes.(Internet Site) In 1867 he patented this material under the

name of dynamite. To be able to detonate the dynamite rods he also invented

a detonator (blasting cap) which could be ignited by lighting a fuse. These

inventions were made at the same time as the diamond drilling crown and the

pneumatic drill came into general use. Together these inventions drastically

reduced the cost of blasting rock, drilling tunnels, building canals and

many other forms of construction work. The market for dynamite and detonating

caps grew very rapidly and Alfred Nobel also proved himself to be a very

skillful entrepreneur and business man.By 1865 his factory in Krümmel near Hamburg, Germany, was exporting

nitroglycerin explosives to other countries in Europe, America and Australia.

Over the years he founded factories and laboratories in some 90 different

places in more than 20 countries.(Encarta) Although he lived in Paris much

of his life he was constantly traveling. Victor Hugo at one time described

him as “Europe’s richest vagabond.” When he was not traveling or engaging

in business activities Nobel himself worked intensively in his various

laboratories, first in Stockholm and later in Hamburg (Germany), Ardeer

(Scotland), Paris (France), Karlskoga (Sweden) and San Remo (Italy). He focused

on the development of explosives technology as well as other chemical inventions,

including such materials as synthetic rubber and leather, artificial silk

etc. By the time of his death in 1896 he had 355 patents.(Compton’s)Intensive work and travel did not leave much time for a private life. At

the age of 43 he was feeling like an old man. At this time he advertised

in a newspaper “Wealthy, highly educated elderly gentleman seeks lady of

mature age, versed in

languages, as secretary and supervisor of household.” The most qualified

applicant turned out to be an Austrian woman, Countess Bertha Kinsky. After

working for Nobel for about two months she decided to return to Austria to

marry Count Arthur on Suture. In spite of this Alfred Nobel and Bertha von

Suttner remained friends and kept writing letters to each other for decades.

Over the years Bertha von Suttner became increasingly critical of the arms

race. She wrote a famous book, titled, “Lay Down Arms” and became a prominent

figure in the peace movement. No doubt this influenced Alfred Nobel when

he wrote his final will which was to include a Prize for persons or organizations

who promoted peace. Several years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the Norwegian

Storting (Parliament) decided to award the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize to Bertha

von Suttner.Alfred Nobel’s greatness lay in his ability to combine the penetrating mind

of the scientist and inventor with the forward-looking dynamism of the

industrialist. Nobel was very interested in social and peace-related issues

and held what were considered radical views in his era. He had a great interest

in literature and wrote his own poetry and dramatic works. The Nobel Prizes

became an extension and a fulfillment of his lifetime interests.Many of the companies founded by Nobel have developed into industrial enterprises

that still play a prominent role in the world economy, for example Imperial

Chemical Industries (ICI), Great Britain, Société Centrale

de Dynamite, France, and Dyno Industries in Norway. Toward the end of his

life, he acquired the company AB Bofors in Karlskoga, where Björkborn

Manor became his Swedish home.Alfred Nobel died in San Remo, Italy, on December 10, 1896. When his will

was opened it came as a surprise that his fortune was to be used for Prizes

in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace. The

executors of his will were two young engineers, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf

Lilljequist. They set about forming the Nobel Foundation as an organization

to take care of the financial assets left by Nobel for this purpose and to

coordinate the work of the Prize-Awarding Institutions. This was not without

its difficulties since the will was contested by relatives and questioned

by authorities in various countries.But as we all know, the legacy of Alfred Nobel lives on today. The prizes

named after him are still the most coveted prizes for the recipients in their

respective fields. Everyone will remember Alfred Nobel as a daring pioneer

who knew no limits.Many of the new advanced scientific discoveries made in the last century

were surely helped out by the work of Nobel. His Nobel prizes reward people

of science and enable them to keep churning out new ways of accomplishing

new feats that have never been attempted before.

318


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