Alfred Nobel: a Pacifist Weapon Merchant


The young Alfred Nobel was a tireless inventor. His first patented invention, in 1857, was a gas meter that was a significant improvement on the current standards.

This was followed by a new pressure gauge in 1859. However, throughout his varied career, Nobel continued to focus on improvements in gunpowder production. Always keeping nitroglycerin’s potential as an explosive in his mind, Nobel attempted to solve the problems that prevented the unstable nitroglycerin liquid from being controlled for practical use.

The first step for Nobel was to synthesize nitroglycerin in sufficient quantities, while avoiding premature detonation. The next major issue was to discover a method for exploding nitroglycerin in a precise and mastered fashion. To this end, Nobel eventually placed a stoppered test tube filled with nitroglycerin into a zinc can packed with gunpowder. He threw the invented prototype into a canal, which promptly resulted in a gigantic explosion and spectacular waterspout.

Alfred described his findings in a detailed letter to his father, who was trying to solve the same problems, yet without much success. Immanuel took a step back from his own work and helped his gifted son to apply for a patent under his name. The patent was registered in 1864, and two years later, father and son were both recognized by the Swedish Academy of Sciences with the Letterstedt Prize, awarded for relevant discoveries of practical value for humanity.