Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD REFERENCE ( (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2013. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single entry from a reference work in OR for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 18 July 2019

Nobel, Alfred Bernhard

The Oxford Companion to Military History

Peter Caddick-Adams

Nobel, Alfred Bernhard (1833–96), 

Swedish chemist who amassed one of the largest fortunes of his day as the inventor of dynamite. Uncertain of a career, the young Nobel discovered an aptitude for chemistry and engineering. A year spent travelling around Europe, the USA, and Russia also gave him a commercial perspective, and he settled down on his return to study explosives. Concentrating his attention on nitroglycerine, he developed it into a safer version for handling, which he patented as dynamite in 1862. He later combined nitroglycerine with gun cotton to create a clear jelly, patented in 1867 as Blasting Gelatin. He also invented a smokeless powder called ballistite. On the arrival of the similar cordite in 1889, he unsuccessfully sued the British government for infringement of one of his 355 patents. By then he had also devised detonators incorporating fulminate of mercury, which allowed his other explosives to be set off at will. The military applications of his inventions were significant, for they coincided with the move from muzzle-loaders to breech-loading weapons, which required ammunition with more powerful explosive in a self-contained capsule. His blasting powders and fuses were also instrumental in the revival of the hand grenade shortly after his death. He died disillusioned with his inventions, and, having no family, left his fortune in trust for the establishment of five prizes—today's Nobel Prizes for Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and, always controversially, Peace.

Peter Caddick-Adams