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Alfred Nobel Invents Dynamite



Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and a very skillful entrepreneur and business man, born in Stockholm on October 21, 1833. His father was Immanuel Nobel, an engineer and inventor who built bridges and buildings in Stockholm. After a bankruptcy, Immanuel left his family in Stockholm in 1837 to start up a new business in St. Petersburg, Russia. Immanuel's business was to manufacture submarine mines and torpedoes that he had designed for the Russian government. In 1842 the rest of the family also moved to Russia.

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Immanuel wanted his four sons to get involved in his business, and put them all through education with private teachers. Alfred was a good student who early picked up the interest for chemistry. His father sent him on to further education in the United States between the years 1850-1852; during this period he also visited Paris and got in contact with nitroglycerin for the first time, an explosive liquid which was first made by an Italian scientist named Ascanio Sobrero in 1847. In 1852 Alfred went back to Russia to work with his father as the Russian Navy had placed big orders for the Crimean War (1853-1856). After the war ended and conditions changed, Immanuel Nobel experienced another bankruptcy and moved back to Stockholm with his family. Two of his sons remained in Russia and developed very successful careers in the oil industry.

Back in Stockholm, Alfred, his father and Alfred's younger brother Emil started a laboratory in 1859 where they started to do experiments with the explosive liquid nitroglycerin. Alfred saw that the advantages nitroglycerin had over gun powder could be used in a commercial and technical way. Over the years they had several explosions in the laboratory; a big one in 1864 killed the younger brother Emil and several other people. The city of Stockholm enforced laws that experiments with explosives could not be made within the city limits of Stockholm.

This did not stop Alfred; he moved his laboratory to a barge on the Lake of Malaren. Alfred had by now realized that there were safety problems to be solved; he had to find a safe way to transport the explosive as well as a method to have control of the detonation of nitroglycerin. In 1864 the company Nitroglycerin AB was founded and a mass production of nitroglycerin started, and the following year,1865, he opened up the first factory abroad in Hamburg. Alfred still worked on the safety issue of the explosive, and in 1866 he successfully mixed nitroglycerin with silica which turned the liquid into a paste. This paste, which could be formed and shaped as desired, made it possible for safe transportation. The new material was patented in 1867 under the name "dynamite." He also invented a blasting cap (detonator) also patented, which could be ignited by lighting a fuse. The market for dynamite and blasting caps grew very rapidly and over the years Alfred founded factories in over 20 countries in 90 different locations. In 1893 he bought the Bofors-Gullspang company in Sweden, today a world known munitions and firearm factory.

Alfred was a great inventor and had 355 patents overall. Others to mention, besides dynamite, include synthetic rubber and leather, and artificial silk. Alfred lived a great deal of his life in Paris but also traveled a lot on business trips around the world. He was constantly involved in intense work and did not have much time left for private life. Besides his interest in his business, Alfred was very interested in social and peace-related issues, he also had a great interest in literature and poetry and even wrote some of his own works. He died in San Remo (Italy) on December 10, 1896. His will directed his fortunes to be used to establish a foundation that awarded a yearly Nobel Prize in the areas Physics, Chemistry, Physiology and Medicine, Literature, and Peace. The Nobel Prize ceremony is held in Stockholm on December 10 each year and the king of Sweden is the person in charge of handing over the prize to the awarded in each category. The ceremony for the Nobel Prize for peace, however, is held in Oslo, Norway.


Bahr, Lauren and Johnston, Bernard. Collier's Encyclopedia. (New York; P. F Collier, Inc., 1992).

Baillie, Laureen. Scandinavian Bibliographical Index 3/L-R. (Chippenham, Wiltshire; Antonu Rowe Ltd, 1994).

Swahn, Jan and Dahlstrom Gil. Bra Bockers Lexikon 17 Neh-Orf. (Brepols, Belgium; Bokforlaget Bra Bocker, 1986).

Edited by: Marie Gunnarsson
Researched by: Rasmus K. Gerdeman
Written by: Jessica Karlsson
May 2, 1997

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