The History of the Nobel Prize
What do Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Marie Curie and Mother Teresa have in common? They’ve all received one of the most prestigious awards in the world: the Nobel Prize. I consider myself fortunate to be counted among them—people I admire and who have made a real difference in the world. Because receiving the Nobel Prize* is one of the greatest achievements in my life, I’d like to share its fascinating history with you.
In 1895, the Swedish inventor, entrepreneur and chemist Alfred Nobel wrote his last will and testament, leaving most of his wealth to be used for the establishment of prizes for people who have “conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.” When he died a year later and people learned about his bequest, they were surprised and even upset. What would motivate a person to do such a thing?
Although he was a pacifist, Nobel was not seen that way during his time. As the inventor of dynamite and the owner of over 90 explosives and ammunition factories, he was best known for death and destruction, including the accidental death of his own brother, Emil, when one of his factories blew up. But behind the explosions and ammunition was a poet, a playwright and a man who loved inventing.
When one newspaper accidentally published an obituary for Nobel in 1888—confusing him with his brother, Ludvig, who had recently died—it went so far as to include the headline, “The merchant of death is dead.” Shocked and saddened by the public’s view of him, it’s likely the obituary may have inspired Nobel to establish the prizes. Most believe he wanted to be known for more than the deadly substances he created.
After his death, and with much opposition from Nobel’s family, the executors of his will gathered together all of the money Nobel had in various countries and brought it back to Sweden. The funds were then used to establish prize categories in physiology or medicine, chemistry, literature, peace and physics, with the later addition of economics. Because of the controversy surrounding Nobel’s will, it took five years for the first awards to be given.
Today, 863 Nobel laureates have been recognized for remarkable discoveries, incredible accomplishments and great acts of peace. The best part? The list is always growing because people are continually making a positive difference in the world.
What do you think is the greatest discovery to date?
*The Nobel Foundation has no affiliation with Herbalife and does not review, approve or endorse Herbalife products.