Alfred Nobel


Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden on October 21, 1833.(Encarta) His
father Immanuel Nobel was an engineer and inventor who built bridges and
buildings in Stockholm. In connection with his construction work Immanuel Nobel
also experimented with different techniques of blasting rock. Alfred\'s mother,
Andrietta Ahlsell came from a wealthy family. Due to misfortunes in the
construction work caused by the loss of some barges of building material,
Immanuel Nobel was forced into bankruptcy the same year Alfred Nobel was born.
In 1837, Immanuel Nobel left Stockholm and his family to start a new career in
Finland and in Russia. To support the family, Andrietta Nobel started a grocery
store which provided a modest income. Meanwhile Immanuel Nobel was successful in
his new enterprise in St. Petersburg, Russia. He started a mechanical workshop
which provided equipment for the Russian army and he also convinced the Tsar and
his generals that naval mines could be used to block enemy naval ships from
threatening the city. The naval mines designed by Immanuel Nobel were simple
devices consisting of submerged wooden casks filled with gun powder. Anchored
below the surface of the Gulf of Finland they effectively deterred the British
Royal Navy from moving into firing range of St. Petersburg during the Crimean
war (1853-1856).

Immanuel Nobel was also a pioneer in arms manufacture and in designing steam
engines. Successful in his industrial and business ventures, Immanuel Nobel was
able, in 1842, to bring his family to St. Petersburg. There, his sons were given
a first class education by private teachers. The training included natural
sciences, languages and literature. By the age of 17, Alfred Nobel was fluent in
Swedish, Russian, French, English and German. His primary interests were in
English literature and poetry as well as in chemistry and physics. Alfred\'s
father, who wanted his sons to join his enterprise as engineers, disliked
Alfred\'s interest in poetry and found his son rather introverted. In order to
widen Alfred\'s horizons his father sent him abroad for further training in
chemical engineering. During a two year period, Alfred Nobel visited Sweden,
Germany, France and the United States.(Schuck p. 113) In Paris, the city he
came to like best, he worked in the private laboratory of Professor T.J. Pelouze,
a famous chemist. There he met the young Italian chemist Ascanio Sobrero who,
three years earlier, had invented nitroglycerin, a highly explosive liquid.
Nitroglycerin was produced by mixing glycerin with sulfuric and nitric acid. It
was considered too dangerous to be of any practical use.(Schuck p. 87) Although
its explosive power greatly exceeded that of gun powder, the liquid would
explode in a very unpredictable manner if subjected to heat and pressure.

Alfred Nobel became very interested in nitroglycerin and how it could be put to
practical use in construction work. He also realized that the safety problems
had to be solved and a method had to be developed for the controlled detonation
of nitroglycerin. In the United States he visited John Ericsson, the Swedish-
American engineer who had developed the screw propeller for ships. In 1852,
Alfred Nobel was asked to come back and work in the family enterprise which was
booming because of its deliveries to the Russian army. Together with his father
he performed experiments to develop nitroglycerin as a commercially and
technically useful explosive. As the war ended and conditions changed, Immanuel
Nobel was again forced into bankruptcy. Immanuel and two of his sons, Alfred and
Emil, left St. Petersburg together and returned to Stockholm. His other two sons,
Robert and Ludvig, remained in St. Petersburg. With some difficulties they
managed to salvage the family enterprise and then went on to develop the oil
industry in the southern part of the Russian empire. They were very successful
and became some of the wealthiest persons of their time. (Compton\'s)

After his return to Sweden in 1863, Alfred Nobel concentrated on developing
nitroglycerin as an explosive. Several explosions, including one (1864) in which
his brother Emil and several other persons were killed, convinced the
authorities that nitroglycerin production was exceedingly dangerous. They
forbade further experimentation with nitroglycerin within the Stockholm city
limits and Alfred Nobel had to move his experimentation to a barge anchored on
Lake Mälaren. Alfred was not discouraged and in 1864 he was able to start mass
production of nitroglycerin. To make the handling of nitroglycerin safer Alfred
Nobel experimented with different additives. He soon found that mixing
nitroglycerin with silica would turn the liquid into a paste which could be
shaped into rods of a size and form suitable for insertion into drilling
holes.(Internet Site) In 1867 he patented this material under