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Alfred Nobel

Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm in 1833. When he was 9 years old his family moved to St. Petersburg, Russia. Alfred’s father, Immanuel, was an inventor and entrepreneur and had previously managed an engineering works in Russia before Alfred was born. Alfred had 3 brothers – Ludvig, Robert and Emil. His loving mother, Andrietta, was the binding force which held the family together.

The four brothers received a thorough and comprehensive education in Russia. All of them were extremely interested in technology and thus planned their future careers within this area. Alfred was (also a gifted linguist, being) able to speak, read and write in no less than five languages by the time he reached the age of 17.

For Immanuel Nobel, Alfred’s father, explosives had always held a special interest. Alfred also inherited this fascination, beginning experiments with nitroglycerine - a dangerous and unstable substance. His aim was to discover a method of making it safe to handle. During the 1860s Alfred Nobel patented Dynamite and blasting caps both of which served to make the blasting process safer and more controlled.

Alfred’s inventions were both sold to, and produced in, many countries. He invested much of his time in travelling round Europe and also the USA. He earned the nickname of ‘Europe’s richest Bohemian’ as he seldom stayed long in any one place!

In the 1870s, Alfred settled down in Paris, making the city his home in between his frequent trips around the world. After a disagreement with the French government, he moved to San Remo in Italy. There he established a laboratory for experimenting with propellants and regularly test-fired cannons out over the Mediterranean Sea, much to the disproval of local residents. Protests continued and Alfred was forced to search for a new location which would allow him to conduct his research into propellants and carry out test-firing without opposition. Alfred found a solution – AB Bofors-Gullspång based in Karlskoga. Here was a company with modern workshops which manufactured cannons. Alfred acquired Bofors in 1894 and immediately set to work building a laboratory and hiring in new staff. In the summer of that year, he paid a visit to his new facility, living in Björkborn Manor during his stay in Sweden.

Alfred Nobel died in 1896. When his famous Will was first opened, it was discovered that Alfred had requested 26-year-old Ragnar Sohlman, an engineer, to be executor together with a business associate, Rudolf Lilljequist. Both these men had earned Alfred’s trust and he believed that they would see to it that his Will be acted upon according to his wishes.

It was now that Karlskoga and Björkborn Manor were to play an important role in Nobel’s Will. Much importance was placed upon the question of where Alfred Nobel had legally had his home. At the time of his death, he still owned his grand apartment in Paris plus a huge house in San Remo, Italy. Which property could actually be called his home? In the end, the courts decided that his legal home was in Karlskoga. Traditionally, it is said that this ruling was based upon the fact that Alfred’s three much-loved Russian Orlov horses were stabled in Karlskoga. In French law, a person’s home was where his or her horses were stabled. As a direct result of this ruling in the French courts, the execution of Alfred’s Will became subject to Swedish law. Had Alfred’s Will been subject to French law it is doubtful it would have met the strict, formal requirements necessary for it to be executed under France’s legal system.

However, Lilljequist and Sohlman did not have an easy task ahead of them. Ragnar Sohlman was the most active of the two executors. He fought against a multitude of unforeseen problems. Nobel’s Will was somewhat vague in its instructions, plus the foundation which Nobel wanted to create in order to award the prizes was not sufficiently answerable to anyone for its actions. Norway’s Supreme Court stood alone in supporting Nobel’s Will right from the beginning. Sohlman travelled tirelessly round Europe, negotiating with Alfred Nobel’s relatives, banks, courts and not-least the Swedish Institutions which would award the prizes themselves. Against all the odds, and with the faithful support of Alfred Nobel’s nephew, Emanuel Nobel, Ragnar Sohlman succeeded in enacting the Will. Alfred Nobel’s last wishes became a reality with the awarding of the first Nobel Prize in 1901.

Ragnar Sohlman remained in Karlskoga. For many years he was the director of a new local company called Nobel Gunpower AB (AB Nobelkrut). Later on in his life, he became the director of the Nobel Foundation. He passed away in 1948.

If you wish to learn more, please visit: http://nobelprize.org/alfred_nobel