I recently came across an interesting article, found here, pertaining to the creation of the Nobel Prize.  As a result of a Will challenge, such a prestigious award almost never came to be.

The famed Swedish chemist, Alfred Nobel, is best known for inventing dynamite, as well as creating the ‘Nobel Prize‘ which awards annual prizes for outstanding work in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, economics (as of 1969), and the promotion of peace.  Nobel passed away without children on December 10, 1896 in San Remo, Italy, leaving a Will dated November 27, 1985.

Nobel executed his Will while in Paris (allegedly, without consulting a lawyer), with the majority of his wealth set aside for the establishment of a prize.  Specifically, the Will required that after certain specific bequests, Nobel’s entire remaining estate was to be used to endow:

“…prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within 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 within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part 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 the holding and promotion of peace congresses“.

The Will also stated the location of where the prizes were to be awarded, as well as the institutions who would be responsible for assigning these prizes.

Apparently, not only was the Will challenged by two nephews who sought to have the Will set aside (grounds unknown), but the creation of the Nobel Prize was met with disapproval by King Oscar II of Sweden on the basis that Nobel’s wishes were unpatriotic, and bypassed Sweden’s interests.  Interestingly, the peace prize was to be awarded by the Norwegian Parliament at a time when friction between Norway and Sweden were at an all-time high.  Further, the various institutions had not been consulted to ensure they were prepared to take on such a prominent role in assigning the prizes.

Notwithstanding this, the first Nobel Prize was awarded on December 10, 1901 in Stockholm and Oslo, with such prizes continuing to be awarded.  Please see Jennifer Hartman’s blog, here, which further explored this interesting issue.

Noah Weisberg