ALAN WALTER: the makeover of the reputation of Dr Alfred Nobel

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It’s Nobel Prize time, and David Card, a native of Guelph, Ont., And a graduate of Queens, has just been named the Nobel Laureate, “for his empirical contributions to the labor economy.” His early work, for which he is probably the best known, concerned minimum wages and their role in supporting economic growth.

The author of these illustrious annual prizes was Dr. Alfred Nobel, Swedish chemist, engineer and innovator. He was the inventor of dynamite and a major manufacturer of cannons and other weaponry used by armies around the world. It is safe to say that what he produced in his factories was responsible for the deaths of countless thousands of people during his lifetime.

Later in his life, Nobel was amazed to read his own obituary, titled “The Merchant of Death is Dead”, in a French newspaper. He went on to say that “Dr Alfred Nobel, who got rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever, passed away yesterday”.

It was in fact an identity mistake. It was Alfred’s brother, Ludwig, who had passed away. However, the content of the newspaper article bothered him. He worried about how he would be remembered after his own death. This concern ultimately inspired him to make better use of his considerable fortune upon his death.

Alfred, who never had a wife or children, wrote his final will a year before his death. To everyone’s surprise, it will be specified that his fortune will be used to create a series of prizes awarded each year to those who have conferred the “greatest benefit to humanity” in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and in particular for peace in the world.

In 1896, Nobel died of a stroke in his villa in Sanremo, Italy, where he had lived the last years of his life. Although Nobel’s will established the prizes to be awarded, his plan was incomplete and, due to various other obstacles, it took several years before the Nobel Foundation could be established and the first prizes could be awarded in December 1901. .

The main purpose of the Nobel Foundation was to manage the finances of the Nobel Prize’s ongoing effort. It did not decide on the winners but acted primarily as an investment company, investing Nobel money to create a solid funding base for the future awarding of prizes.

When Nobel died in 1896, his estate amounted to $ 186 million in current dollars. Recent estimates put the assets now controlled by the Nobel Foundation at around $ 560 million. So, you can see that the foundation has done a good job over the last hundred years or so in increasing the fund’s core capital while still being able to issue large annual awards during this time.

In addition to the cash prize, currently over $ 1 million per recipient, the winners of the five awards receive a large 18k gold medal. If there are two or more winners, called winners, in a particular category, the prize money is divided equally between them.

The most recent Canadian Nobel laureate was Arthur B. McDonald, in Physics for “the discovery of neutrino oscillations, which shows that neutrinos have mass”. Born in Sydney, Nova Scotia in 1943, he shares this 2015 award with Japanese scientist Takaaki Kajita.

Additionally, Canadian author Alice Munro won the 2013 Literature Prize for being the “Mistress of Contemporary Short Story”, but was unable to attend the awards ceremony in Sweden due to illness.

Closer to home, in 2009, Willard S. Boyle of Cumberland County received the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the charged coupled device used to this day to capture images in all types of digital cameras. . Born in Amherst in 1924, he retired in Wallace until his death in 2011.

The only Canadian politician to receive a Nobel Prize was our former Prime Minister Lester Bowles Pearson, in this case the 1957 Peace Prize for his role in defusing the Suez Crisis in 1956.

How will history view the life of Dr Nobel?

Probably nicely, despite the deadly source of his wealth. His attempt at personal redemption by creating the means to recognize outstanding contributions to humanity was not a cynical or dishonest move. Better that he chose to leave the world with this new inheritance than nothing at all.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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