A Dynamite Legacy
I recently blogged on the lasting legacy of Cecil Rhodes. Along the same lines, the life of Alfred Nobel is worth considering.
Like most “great men”, Nobel was a bundle of contradictions. He was a successful Swedish business who is best remembered for inventing dynamite. However, he was a committed pacifist who wrote plays and novels – none of which are particularly remarkable. It was the world’s good fortune that a newspaper mistakenly printed Nobel’s obituary calling him the “merchant of death”. Nobel was horrified and turned his mind to creating a lasting legacy of peace. When he died in 1896, 94 percent of his substantial fortune went to fund an award for those whose work “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind” in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peacemaking. In 1969, economics was added as a separate category.
Not surprisingly, Nobel’s relatives were not happy. The vague wording of his will gave them the opportunity to tie up Nobel’s estate for years in the Swedish courts. However, on the fifth anniversary of his death, the first Nobel Prizes were presented by the King of Sweden. At the time, the monetary award that accompanied the Nobel Prizes was a vast sum ($42,000). The prize is now worth close to a million dollars today. Nobel laureates are highly regarded and many are household names. It is no exaggeration to boast that the Nobel Prize is the most prestigious award in the world and a lasting legacy from the man who invented dynamite.