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Ed Alfred Nobel was born in October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. At the age of nine he moved with his family to Russia. He was educated there, where he became fluent in five languages -- Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. He also developed a passion for poetry and literature.

His father, Immanuel, was an engineer who encouraged his four sons in mechanical fields. He was himself a successful inventor, having experimented with various methods of using explosives to aid in construction. From 1850-1852, he sent Alfred to the United States and to Paris for further education, and in Paris Alfred was first introduced to nitroglycerin, a volatile, explosive liquid first made by an Italian scientist in 1847. When he returned to Russia he continued working with his father, who was very busy supplying explosives to the Russian Navy during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Alfred began experimenting with nitroglycerin in his father's factory, looking for ways to stabilize the substance.

Alfred, his brother Emil, and his father started a laboratory in Stockholm in 1859 to experiment with nitroglycerin. The three moved back to Sweden in 1863, while Alfred's other two brothers remained in Russia where they would become very successful in the oil industry. Meanwhile in 1864, an explosion at the Nobels' lab killed Emil and several other people, and new laws were imposed to prohibit experiments with explosives within Stockholm city limits. Despite the tragedy, Alfred persevered, and in 1866 discovered that nitroglycerin mixed with a powder called kieselguhr produced the desired effect – a hardened form of the explosive that could be easily inserted into holes for blasting rock and concrete. He named the mixture dynamite, and received a patent in 1867.

Alfred established factories around the world to make dynamite and other explosives, serving mainly construction and mining companies as well as the military. He also continued research in chemistry, and his discoveries aided in the development of synthetic leather, silk, rubber and other materials. His enterprise was very successful; he quickly became a very rich man.

Nobel died in San Remo, Italy, on December 10, 1896, and in his will he laid out plans for a $9 million portion of his fortune to be used to award prizes in physics, medicine, chemistry, literature and peace. The executors of his will formed the Nobel Foundation to carry out his wishes. The statutes of the foundation were officially adopted on June 29, 1900, with the first prize awarded in 1901.

[October 2003]

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