Born in Stockholm
On October 21, 1833 a baby boy was born to a family in Stockholm, Sweden who was to become a famous scientist, inventor, businessman and founder of the Nobel Prizes. His father was Immanuel Nobel and his mother was Andriette Ahlsell Nobel. They named their son Alfred.
Alfred’s father was an engineer and inventor. He built bridges and buildings and experimented with different ways of blasting rocks.
The same year that Alfred was born, his father’s business suffered losses and had to be closed. In 1837, Immanuel Nobel decided to try his business somewhere else and left for Finland and Russia. Alfred’s mother was left in Stockholm to take care of the family. At this time, Alfred had two older brothers, Robert born in 1829, and Ludvig born in 1831.
Andriette Nobel, who came from a wealthy family, started a grocery store. The store had a modest income that helped in supporting the family.
The Family Moves to Russia
After a time, Immanuel Nobel’s business in St. Petersburg, Russia started doing well. He had opened a mechanical workshop that provided equipment for the Russian army. He also made the Russian Tsar and his generals believe that sea mines could be used to stop enemy ships from entering and attacking St. Petersburg. The mines stopped the British Royal Navy from moving into firing range of St. Petersburg during the Crimean War in 1853-1856.
With his success in Russia, Immanuel was now able to move his family to St. Petersburg in 1842. By 1843, another boy was born into the family, Emil. The four Nobel brothers were given first class education with the help of private tutors. Their lessons included natural sciences, languages and literature. At the age of 17, Alfred could speak and write in Swedish, Russian, French, English and German.
Alfred Travels Abroad
Alfred was most interested in literature, chemistry and physics. His father wanted his sons to follow in
his footsteps and was not pleased with Alfred’s interest in poetry. He decided to send the young man abroad to study and become a chemical engineer.
Young Alfred Nobel
In Paris, Alfred worked in the private laboratory of Professor T. J. Pelouze, a famous chemist. There he met a young Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero. Three years earlier, Sobrero had invented nitroglycerine, a highly explosive liquid. It was considered too dangerous to be of practical use.
Alfred became very interested in nitroglycerine and how it could be used in construction work. When he returned back to Russia after his studies, he worked together with his father to develop nitroglycerine as a commercially and technically useful explosive.
Moving Back to Sweden
After the Crimean War ended, the business of Alfred’s father went badly and he decided to move back to Sweden. Alfred’s elder brothers Robert and Ludvig stayed in Russia to try and save what was left of the family business. They became successful and went on to develop the oil industry in the southern part of Russia.
After the Nobel family’s return to Sweden in 1863, Alfred concentrated on developing nitroglycerine as an explosive. Sadly, these experiments resulted in accidents that killed several people, including Alfred’s younger brother, Emil. The government decided to ban these experiments within the Stockholm city limits.
Alfred did not give up and moved his experiments to a barge or flat bottom boat on Lake Mälaren.