Do you want to know about an inventor with over 350 patents, the man behind the invention of dynamite and countless other explosives? If yes, this is the right place to begin.This summary will walk you through Alfred Nobel’s life. It talks about his early life, his inventions, his personal life, and the Nobel Prizes that he was honored with.If you like to read history and are interested in engineering and inventions, you should definitely continue reading. Read about Nobel’s contributions towards society and the establishment of one of the most significant awards ever given.

Early Life (Main Idea )

This chapter focuses on Alfred Nobel’s early life. We will find out how Alfred Nobel became interested in technology and inventions. We will also learn about the childhood influences that helped him pursue his dream to change the landscapes of engineering and chemistry. This chapter also talks about the influence of his family and peers.


Alfred Nobel was born on 21st October 1833. Immanuel Nobel, his father, married Karolina Andriette Ahlsell in 1827. The couple had eight children, but only four survived past their childhood. Alfred Nobel was one of them. His family is a descendant of Olof Rudbeck, a technical genius of the 17th century.As a young boy, Alfred was fascinated with engineering,especially explosives. Like his father, Alfred also had a deep interest in technology. His father taught him some fundamental principles of engineering that further sparked his interest. Thus, engineering and technology had an influence on Alfred from his childhood.
He also shared a close relationship with his mother.Immanuel Nobel moved to Finland from Sweden. Alfred’s mother took care of the family in Sweden. Though she came from a wealthy family, Alfred’s mother started a grocery store. The income from the grocery store helped sustain the family.Immanuel Nobel moved to Saint Petersburg in 1837. His previous business ventures had failed, but Immanuel grew successful in Russia. After he invented the veneer lathe, his family joined him in Russia in 1842. Since the family was financially stable now,Immanuel sent his son, Alfred, to private tutors. All his four sons received a good education. Alfred went to school and excelled in chemistry and different languages. He was very fluent in English, German, Russian, Swedish, and French. He also studied with Nikolai Zinin, a famous Russian Chemist known for the Zinin Reaction. Thus, Alfred’s peers influenced him.
Alfred decided to leave Russia in 1850  and go to Paris to study chemistry. He was also keen on poetry, but his father was not pleased with this interest He decided to send his son abroad to become a chemical engineer. In Paris, Alfred met Ascanio Sobrero, a famous Italian chemist who invented nitroglycerin. Sobrero did not recommend using nitroglycerin as it exploded due to heat or pressure, and its behavior was unpredictable. But Alfred Nobel found a way to commercialize the use of nitroglycerin and control it. Thus, Alfred proved himself to be a curious person who was determined to find solutions to problems that others thought unsolvable. His interest in explosives further helped him to commercialize nitroglycerin.This was a successful idea as nitroglycerin was much more powerful than gunpowder.
Later, Alfred Nobel went to the United States and worked under inventor John Ericsson. He returned to Russia in 1852 and started working with his father in his factory. Immanuel Nobel’s factory produced military equipment for the Crimean War of 1853. After the war, the company went bankrupt as it couldn’t produce steamboat machinery as efficiently as it made military equipment.  Thus, Nobel’s early years saw ups and downs.

Invention of Dynamite

This chapter discusses Alfred Nobel’s life after he returned to Sweden. The chapter also examines his most famous invention, dynamite. It talks about the challenges he faced while working on nitroglycerin and the reasons that prompted him to make a safe explosive. The chapter also describes the fatal accident that occurred at Alfred’s factory.


After their business crumpled, Alfred and his parents returned to Sweden. Alfred’s brothers Ludvig and Robert stayed behind in Russia to take care of what was left of their family business. In Sweden, Alfred began working on explosives in his small laboratory at his father’s estate.  The only explosive used in mines during that time was gun powder. Nitroglycerin was a much powerful explosive, but it was unsafe to use. However, Alfred built a factory that manufactured nitroglycerin. He also began researching ways to make the explosive safe. 
Alfred built a detonator in 1863. It was a wooden plug inserted into a charge of nitroglycerin that was suspended in a metal container. He also made an improved detonator in 1865, which was called a blasting cap. It was a metal cap containing mercury fulminate; moderate heat or a shock could make it explode.The blasting cap made it possible for people to start using nitroglycerin commercially. But nitroglycerin was difficult to transport and store. The liquid was so dangerous that it blew up Alfred’s factory, killing his younger brother, Emil. Four others were also killed in the accident. Despite the tragic deaths, Alfred built several nitroglycerin factories and made use of his bottle cap. He founded a company called Nitroglycerin Aktiebolaget AB in Vinterviken. He wanted to work in an isolated area after the explosion at the factory. But accidents still occurred because of nitroglycerin.
 In 1867, Alfred Nobel invented dynamite. He accidentally discovered that nitroglycerin was absorbed by kieselguhr to make it dry. Kieselguhr is a porous earth containing silica. The resulting mixture was safe to use and did not create any explosions. He also tried cement,coal, and sawdust, but these combinations did not work.Alfred named his invention “dynamite,” as the word comes from the Greek word “dynamis,” which means “power.” He originally wanted to call it “Nobel’s Blasting Powder.”
It came into wide use, and Nobel was granted patents in Great Britain and the United States in 1867 for his invention. Consequently, dynamite could be used for mining, blasting tunnels, and building railways and roads.It is now typically sold in the form of cardboard cylinders.Alfred Nobel grew popular worldwide for his invention. Today, South Africa and the United States are the most prominent manufacturers of dynamite. The usage of dynamite requires proper licenses around the world.

Evolution of Dynamite

The chapter discusses the evolution of dynamite, the forms of dynamite produced by Alfred Nobel, and how they were built. These include Blasting Gelatin and Ballistite, which became widely popular throughout the world. The chapter also talks about Alfred’s other inventions and over 350 patents. We also find out how Alfred Nobel amassed a huge fortune that helped him expand his network and buy ironworks.


Across Europe, Alfred Nobel built a network of factories that produced dynamite. He also marketed his product widely. But Alfred was also constantly in search of a better version of dynamite. He was a perfectionist and wanted a foolproof product that could be safely used as an explosive.In 1875, a more robust form of dynamite called “blasting gelatin” was invented. He patented the product in 1876. By accident, Alfred had discovered that a mixture of nitroglycerin and nitrocellulose resulted in a rigid material. Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable,fluffy compound. The resulting plastic material had high water resistance and was more powerful than ordinary dynamite. It was adopted for mining worldwide, bringing Alfred a great deal of fortune, but it also badly affected his health.
In 1887, Ballistite was invented. It was a nitroglycerin smokeless powder. It also became a precursor of cordite, a smokeless rocket propellant.Though Nobel held the patent for his invention of dynamite and many other explosives, he was constantly bothered by competitors who stole his methods.In the meantime, Alfred’s brothers in Russia discovered oil fields near Baku and became wealthy and prosperous. They founded a vast oil company called Branonel.The company operated in Azerbaijan and became one of the largest oil companies in the world. Due to his own inventions and his brother’s companies, Nobel became a wealthy man. He invested in his brothers’ oil companies.
In 1893, Nobel bought an ironworks at Bofors in Sweden. It expanded to become the Bofors Arms Factory. Nobel also produced many other inventions, including artificial silk and leather.Across various countries, Alfred managed to register about 350 patents. He also established about 90 factories that produced armaments. Ironically, Nobel is believed to have been a pacifist who did not like war.He also was elected as a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for his inventions. Additionally, he received an honorific doctorate from Uppsala University in Sweden.

Dynamite companies

This chapter sheds light on the number of companies Alfred Nobel established. From Sweden,Germany, and the United States to France, Nobel managed to set up companies worldwide. He amassed a great deal of wealth, especially from the German factories. This chapter explains how comprehensive his business was.


The first company that manufactured dynamite, established by Alfred Nobel, was a joint-stock company. It was called the Nobel Dynamite Trust Company.” Nobel had already founded Nitroglycerin Aktiebolaget AB in Sweden, which was also a joint-stock company. He received 49.6 shares in the company as well as a cash payment.Nobel’s second nitroglycerin company was founded in 1865. He sold his shares later and received money for the patents.Alfred left Sweden in 1865 and only returned for occasional visits. In Germany, he set up a factory in Krummel after permission from the authorities. He was helped by two Swedish merchants who lent him a shed to work in. In the German company, he owned 57 percent shares.
Nobel also visited the United States in 1866. He originally went to defend his patents. But later,he founded another nitroglycerin company there. He received 10,000 dollars in cash and 25 percent for transferring his patents. A factory was also built, which was destroyed by explosions three years later. The company eventually stopped production.In 1868, Nobel went to England and traveled around. He demonstrated the features of his product in various places. He invited the media to commercialize his product.The negotiations lasted for three years, and the British Dynamite Company Ltd. was founded in 1871. Alfred held half the shares in the company.
In 1869, Nobel met a man called Paul Barbe in France. Another factory was built at Paulilles. During his later years, Alfred acquired the company Bofors in Sweden. A part of the deal included a mansion that he only used in summers.All his companies had varying levels of  profits. The German companies proved to be the most successful in terms of production and exports. The Swiss and Italian companies had no gains. The French company took time to become profitable, while the Spanish company was successful from the beginning. The British company was just a small company. Many of his companies had to face intense competition from other manufacturers of dynamite. Thus, Nobel could never gain a monopoly for dynamite in the market.

Nobel Prize

This chapter reveals the reasons for the establishment of the Nobel Prize. It describes how the famous mistaken obituary of Alfred Nobel impacted him to establish the Nobel Prize. The chapter also talks in detail about whom the Prize is awarded to. The various categories and rewards of the recipient are discussed. The chapter also talks about criticism against the Nobel Prize.


While visiting Cannes, Alfred’s brother Ludvig passed away in 1888. A French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary for Alfred. The obituary condemned him for his inventions and stated, “the merchant of death is dead.” It also stated that the person who became rich by finding ways to kill people faster than ever before had died. This bothered Alfred as he was concerned about how he was going to be remembered after his death.It is believed this is the reason why Alfred established the Nobel Prizes. He was deeply affected by the incident. He wanted people to remember him for his service to the public.
In 1895, Alfred signed his last will and set aside a considerable portion of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, which were to be awarded annually. The recipients were to be rewarded for physical science, chemistry, physiology, literary work, and for international service to world peace.The nominations for the awards are made by the Nobel Committee for around 3000 people. A report is prepared by members who are highly proficient in the respective fields, and a majority decision declares the winner.The recipient of the award receives a gold medal and 10 million Swedish Krona.In his will, Alfred wrote that the money should go to discoveries and inventions but did not make a clear distinction between science and technology.
For this reason, the money goes to scientists more often than engineers. Sweden’s Central Bank donated a large sum of money on its 300th anniversary to establish the sixth Prize. This was to be awarded for excellence in the field of economics.There also have been a number of criticisms against the Nobel Prize.The committee has often been accused of being biased and having political agendas.One major criticism against the Nobel Prize is that Mahatma Gandhi didn’t receive it for his contribution to world peace. The year when Gandhi died, no Nobel Peace Prize was awarded because the committee stated that there was no suitable candidate.This is one of the primary reasons that there is heavy criticism against the Nobel Prize.

Personal Life

This chapter discusses Alfred Nobel’s personal life, including his mental state, political ideology, and religious views. The chapter also discusses Alfred’s love life and his relationships. His depression is also a key aspect of his life that this chapter discusses. This chapter also examines Alfred’s interest in literature and the arts as well as his unpublished work, including novels, poems, and plays.


Alfred Nobel remained lonely and prone to depression throughout his life. Although his business required him to travel and meet people, he remained in solitude. He was never married, but it is believed that he had at least three affairs. His first affair was with a Russian girl named Alexandra, who rejected his proposal. In 1876, he had an affair with his secretary,Bertha Kinsky. Alfred ran an ad in a newspaper for a mature woman proficient in languages for the job of a secretary. The Austrian woman was the most suitable for the position. Bertha later left Alfred and married her previous lover. However, the two corresponded until Alfred’s death. His longest relationship was with Sofija Hess for 18 years. Alfred Nobel’s personality often puzzled his contemporaries. He always led a simple life despite his enormous fortune.
Besides his interest in engineering and explosives, Nobel had an interest in literature and often wrote plays, novels, and poems. He had a vast collection of books, and he read intensively.Alfred had a private library with over 1500 volumes of books. These included fiction as well as classic works of philosophers and scientists.Most of his work remains unpublished. Alfred’s poems were written in English. He claimed that he wrote poetry only to relieve his depression and to improve his English. He also destroyed a significant amount of his poetry.His energy was incomparable. He was a workaholic who found it difficult to relax.His political ideology was also quite interesting. He was a socialist who did not trust democracy.
He believed in women’s empowerment and was essentially a pacifist. He hoped his inventions would bring a complete end to war.Nobel was a follower of Martin Luther and regularly went to church. However, later in life, he became an atheist.Nobel had poor health throughout his life.He suffered from indigestion, headaches, and depression. Although he made several visits to health resorts, he did not like treatments offered there because the Inactivity bored him. Due to his work with chemicals and his stressful life, he always remained unhealthy.


This chapter discusses Alfred Nobel’s later years. It talks about the places where he shifted to and his health conditions. This chapter also discusses his interest in writing in the last years of his life. Finally, the chapter talks about the inventor’s death and legacy.


Alfred Nobel sold his invention of Ballistite to Italy. For this reason, Alfred moved to Paris as he was accused of treachery. Alfred always had a liking for Paris. He bought a beautiful mansion and settled there for two decades. His house was called “My Nest.”He later shifted to a villa in San Remo.There are also speculations that Alfred wanted to offer his villa to Sweden’s King Oscar as a residence during his visits.Nobel contracted Angina Pectoris by 1895. It caused him chest pain due to reduced blood flow to the heart.Throughout his life, his health was never good. By the early 1890s, his depression also became more severe.
During his last years, Alfred wrote plays and novels. He wrote a play called “The Patent Bacillus.”  He also worked on a novel.In 1896, Alfred died of a stroke in San Remo, Italy. He was partially paralyzed and died at 2:00 AM. A simple funeral was held, and he was cremated. A more ostentatious funeral was held in Stockholm, Sweden. His remains are buried in Norra Begravningsplatsen in Stockholm. Alfred’s villa was sold, and it has been in use for cultural and scientific purposes.The villa, alongside the adjacent laboratory, was later converted to a museum for the public.
When his will was opened, it came as a surprise. This was because he had reserved his money to establish the Nobel Prizes.Nobel left about 250 million US dollars to fund the Nobel Prize. Today, the will is kept in a vault and has never been displayed to the public.Four random gentlemen at a club were the witnesses to the document.Two young engineers, Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist, executed his will. Ragnar Sohlman was also his assistant.
They faced many difficulties since the will was questioned by relatives and authorities in several countries. His nephews and nieces wanted to inherit his fortune. Many Swedish citizens were also angered as the Nobel Prizes were open to all nations.Five years after his death, the Nobel Prize was awarded to its first recipient.A museum called the Nobel Museum was built in 2001 in Sweden. Various exhibitions are held at the museum. A souvenir shop is also present at the location.


This summary tells you everything you need to know about the man behind dynamite.You read about Alfred Nobel’s personal life and his interest in engineering. You found out about his inventions and his patents. This summary also discussed the establishment of the most significant awards given for excellence in various fields, the Nobel Prize.You read about how the Nobel Prize was established as well as about Alfred Nobel’s contributions towards international society.This summary gave you all the essential information you needed about the man with over 350 patents.

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