Alfred Bernhard Nobel
invented dynamite in 1867
1833 - 1896

Alfred Bernhard Nobel, a Swedish chemist and industrialist, invented dynamite. He established the Nobel Prizes, using profits from the manufacture of chemical explosives to provide funds for the prizes.

Nobel began experimenting with nitroglycerin in his father's factory. Liquid nitroglycerin is a powerful explosive that is dangerous because of its tendency to explode when handled roughly. Nobel tried many ways of making nitroglycerin safe to use. The best way, he discovered, was to mix it with a fine, porous powder called kieselguhr. Nobel named the resulting powdery mixture dynamite. He received a patent for it in 1867. Construction and mining companies and the military ordered large quantities of dynamite because of its relative safety and explosive power. Nobel set up factories around the world, and sales of dynamite and other explosives brought him great wealth. His other chemical research provided valuable information on the preparation of artificial forms of rubber, leather, silk, and precious stones.

Nobel was born in Stockholm and was educated in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his family had moved in 1842. He traveled widely as a young man and became fluent in five languages. Nobel was greatly interested in literature and wrote poetry, novels, and plays in his spare time. In his will, Nobel set up a fund of about $9 million. The interest from the money was to be used to award annual prizes to people whose work most benefited humanity. Nobel wanted the profits from explosives to be used to reward human ingenuity. The Nobel Prizes, first awarded in 1901, remain the most honored prizes in the world.

Contributor: Melvyn C. Usselman, Ph.D., Associate Prof. of Chemistry, Univ. of Western Ontario.

Additional resources

Crawford, Elisabeth T. The Beginnings of the Nobel Institution: The Science Prizes, 1901-1915. 1984. Reprint. Cambridge, 1987.

Fant, Kenne. Alfred Nobel. Arcade Pub., 1993.

Halasz, Nicholas. Nobel: A Biography of Alfred Nobel. Orion Pr., 1959.


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