Nobel by name, noble by nature
The last will and testament of Dr. Alfred Bernhard Nobel guaranteed the engineer a permanent place in history and, in the process, gave Sweden arguably the most exclusive brand name on the planet.
"The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind."

Even in his wildest dreams, the author of these words could hardly have realized the impact his bequest would have on the world. Dated November 27, 1895, the last will and testament of Dr. Alfred Bernhard Nobel guaranteed the engineer a permanent place in history and, in the process, gave Sweden arguably the most exclusive brand name on the planet.


In a society where success is judged predominately in commercial terms, there is thankfully at least one institution standing that still recognizes and rewards the finest human and humane endeavors. Nobel Prize laureates might not receive the same publicity as Olympic champions or Oscar winners, but then again, the Nobel Prize is not about transient achievements. Its founder made clear that he desired his patronage be bestowed only on the extraordinary in fields outside of the realms of popular culture; a small band of people who have helped to define and often change the course of history for the common good. He may have been shooting for the stars, but were he alive today, he would probably be content to see that his wishes largely have been fulfilled.

As the inventor of dynamite and other explosives, Nobel has a legacy often questioned. Did he, as a person responsible for accelerating the destructive powers of mankind, seek to salve his conscience by redirecting the major portion of his vast fortune into what could be considered one of the most expensive public relations campaigns ever staged?

Because the Swede, who died in Italy in 1896, never outlined his personal reasons for inaugurating the Prizes, commentators can only guess. But the PR theory fails to paint the full picture. Nobel was more than just a brilliant inventor and successful business tycoon.

Born in Stockholm in 1833, Alfred Nobel was one of four sons born to Immanuel and Caroline Nobel. Alfred showed a keen interest in engineering early on, and learned the basics from his father. In 1837, his father left Stockholm after several business failures for St. Petersburg, where he built a successful company that manufactured explosives and machine tools. In 1842, Immanuel brought Alfred and the rest of the family to join him in Russia. Such was Immanuel’s new wealth that he was able to have his sons educated by private tutors.

By the age of sixteen, Alfred spoke five languages fluently and was a budding chemist. In 1850, he moved to Paris to study this discipline, and it there that the seeds that would one day become the Nobel Prizes began to germinate.

It is knowledge, and mankind’s appreciation of it, be it social or scientific, that lie at the very root of the ideology of the Nobel prizes. The selection of Laureates is, as one might imagine a complex task, the selection machinery itself mirroring the overall structure of the Prize’s multifaceted approach, as can be seen not the least by this years winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, the nomination and selection of Nobel Prize winners varies accordingly to category and prize-awarding institutions.

Many Americans among winners
A number of Americans received Nobel Prizes in recent years. This year's Nobel Chemistry Prize was split between a UK-, an Israel-, and a U.S. based researcher ( and the Nobel Prize in Medicine went to three American researchers (
In the year 2000, Sweden’s Dr. Arvid Carlsson shared this prize with Paul Greengard and Eric R. Kandel, both from the U.S. Their selection fell nicely in line with Nobel’s wish that, “no consideration shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive it, whether he be Scandinavian or not.” Winners from other categories that year included Jack S. Kilby from Texas Instruments in Physics; and Alan J. Heeger and Alan G. MacDiarmid from the University of California at Santa Barbara and University of Pennsylvania, respectively, who shared the Prize in Chemistry with Dr. Shirakawa from the University of Tsukuba in Japan. Americans James J. Heckman and Daniel L. McFadden received the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in memory of Alfred Nobel, for a total of seven U.S. citizens honored in the year 2000.

Winners of the this year's Nobel Prizes will receive SEK 10M (about $1.4 million), compared to SEK 115,000 back in 1923. The greatest increase in prize money came in 1969, when the Prize in Economic Sciences was added. Winners also receive an impressive medal and a certificate as well as the knowledge that they are likely to go down in history as one of this world’s most talented individuals.

These celebrations mark a milestone in what most of us have come to see as an accolade for individuals who have widened the domains of research and understanding to new higher levels. As a result, Nobel will for many of us be ever synonymous with the quest for peace, of brave struggle against the face of evil, and of hope.

In the words of a fine man, a great orator and one of America’s brightest sons, “I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners – all those to whom beauty is truth, and truth is beauty – and in whose eyes the beauty of genuine brotherhood and peace is more precious than diamonds, or silver, or gold.’ (From the Nobel Prize acceptance speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Dec. 10, 1964).

More info on the Prize and the Nobel Foundation, see For more information on the impressive monument in New York's Theodore Roosevelt Park, see