What would you do when you browse through the obituaries and find one dedicated to you? There are not too many instances when that happens, but did you know Alfred Nobel, the man behind the Nobel Prize, read his own obituary?
In 1888, Alfred Nobel read his own obituary entitled “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” He was completely puzzled by this. The fact is, it was his brother, Ludvig Nobel, who died. The obituary inspired him to change his will.
Who is Alfred Nobel?
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish chemist, inventor, engineer, businessman, and philanthropist. He was born in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 21, 1833. Even as a young boy, he was already interested in engineering. His father was an engineer and took the time to teach Nobel about the basic principles.
Due to failed business ventures, his father moved to Saint Petersburg. There he found success as a manufacturer of machines, tools, and explosives. By 1842, the rest of the family joined him. They lived in prosperity and were able to hire private tutors for their children.
Nobel excelled in academics, especially in chemistry and languages. He was fluent in Russian, German, and French. As a young man, he studied chemistry under Nikolai Zinin then moved to Paris in 1850 for work.
During his lifetime, Nobel was able to acquire 355 patents. He invented dynamite and worked on synthetic leather, rubber, and even artificial silk. A list of his patents can be found here.
(Source: The Nobel Peace Prize)
What Was in the Obituary?
Historians have yet to find a copy of the controversial obituary, to the point that some dismiss the story as a hoax. But several others genuinely believe that the obituary was one of the factors that helped persuade Nobel to start The Nobel Foundation.
What we know is that the obituary was entitled The Merchant of Death is Dead. People in that era gave Nobel the nickname Dynamite King and Merchant of Death because of his destructive invention.
When his brother, Ludvig Nobel, passed away due to a heart attack in 1888. Poor reporting by a French newspaper released info that Alfred was the one who had perished. The mistake was eventually corrected, but not before Nobel read the scathing obituary.
Nobel became so obsessed with his posthumous reputation that he rewrote his last will, bequeathing most of his fortune to a cause upon which no future obituary writer would be able to cast aspersions.Kenne Fant
Why Did Nobel Create the Nobel Peace Prize?
After reading the obituary, Nobel rewrote his last will and testament. He decided to use some of his torture to support the work of inventors and scientists. He came up with a plan to dedicate most of his riches to a series of prizes for those helpful contributions to humanity. What he probably did not expect is for his award fund to be this big and this sought-after.
Throughout the remaining years of his life, Nobel kept quiet about the fund. There were only a few people who knew of his plans, but the instructions of his will were considered controversial and confusing. His family wanted to overturn the will since they were being denied the largest amount of his fortune.
It took about five years before the executors could sort out Nobel’s will and legally set up the foundation. (Source: History)