October 1, 2008 / 3:35 PM / 10 years ago

FACTBOX: Nobel: the prizes and the man

(Reuters) - Swedish businessman and dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel set up a number of prizes awarded each year in his name in his will, which was signed in 1895.

The following are some facts about the man and the prizes:


— Nobel said in his will the prizes should be given to people “who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.”

— He ordered that most of his estate of 31 million Swedish crowns at the time should be converted into a fund and invested in safe securities.

— The first prizes were awarded in 1901, five years after Nobel’s death in San Remo, Italy.

— His will gave five categories for prizes: physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, literature and peace. A sixth prize, the Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, was established in 1968.

— The winners get 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.45 million), either individually or shared, though no more than three people are allowed to share.


— As well as being an inventor and businessman, Nobel dabbled in writing plays and poetry. The following are the opening lines of his “Night Thoughts”:

“The solemn silence of the midnight hour

Unchains the fettered spirit, and the power

Of Reasoning takes a visionary flight

Beyond the limits of detective sight,

Which may deceive us, yet attracts the soul

Even with its wild and daring uncontrol.”

— Nobel never married and was continually on the road. French writer Victor Hugo called him “Europe’s richest vagabond.”

— He once described himself in this way: “Pathetic half life, should have been suffocated by a humane doctor as he sobbingly made his entry into life ... His only request: not to be buried alive.”

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