Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and inventor, born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1833. His father Immanuel started a company that manufactured weapons, among other items. He invented plywood and the first torpedoes. He also passed on his love of technology and innovation to his four sons, especially Alfred, who patented over 350 inventions during his lifetime.
After completing several successful inventions, Alfred started work on a new type of explosive using the chemical nitroglycerine. Because of nitroglycerine's highly explosive tendency, this work was extremely dangerous, resulting in the tragic death of one of his brothers. Alfred's determination to make a safer explosive eventually paid off, however, with the development of dynamite, his most important - and most famous - invention. Dynamite made huge advancements, such as the U.S. transcontinental railroad, possible for the first time.
Nobel went on to develop hundreds of other products, including other kinds of explosives. He amassed a vast fortune from his of them were used for warfare, and his reputation suffered because of it. When his older brother Ludwig died, many newspapers printed scathing obituaries for Alfred instead. “The Merchant of Death Is Dead,” read one headline. The article summed up Alfred as “a man who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
After seeing this preview of his probable legacy, Nobel was horrified. In his will, he wrote instructions for what should be done with his wealth. He had never married, so he had no heirs. Instead, he divided part of his money among his surviving relatives. The rest was to be set aside in a special fund (worth about $265 million in today's money) for awarding yearly prizes to people around the world who made the greatest achievements in various fields, including literature and science. Another prize was to be awarded for achievements in promoting peace.
Nobel's peaceful intentions were less than successful, however. When he died in 1896, his family was outraged by his will. They tried to prevent his wishes from being carried out, but were thwarted by one of Nobel's trusted assistants, who quietly carried out Nobel's last instructions. The first prizes, including the Nobel Peace Prize, were awarded in 1901. 13 years later, World War I broke out, followed by World War II.
However, Alfred Nobel was successful in one thing. Instead of the “merchant of death,” he is known today as the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize. Not a bad reputation makeover, if you ask me.