Alfred Nobel’s WillThe first Nobel Prize was awarded in 1901
Photo: Henrik Jansson
ALFRED NOBEL’S WILL
On November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his third and last will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris. When it was opened and read after his death, the will caused a lot of controversy, both in Sweden and internationally, as Nobel had left much of his wealth for the establishment of a prize. His family opposed the establishment of the Nobel Prize, and the prize awarders he named refused to do what he had requested in his will. It was five years before the first Nobel Prize could be awarded in 1901.
ESTABLISHMENT OF THE NOBEL PRIZE
In this excerpt of the will, Alfred Nobel dictates that his entire remaining estate should be used to endow “prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to mankind.”
“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 on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention within the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or improvement; one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery within the domain of physiology or medicine; one part to the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiology or medical works by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration be given to the nationality of the candidates, but that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.”
Alfred Nobel was interested in social issues and was engaged in the peace movement. His acquaintance with Bertha von Suttner (who was later awarded the 1905 Nobel Peace Prize) influenced his own views on peace. Perhaps his peace interest was also because his inventions were used in warfare and assassination attempts? Peace was the fifth and final prize area that Nobel mentioned in his will.