Nobel Prize Awards Introduction and History

About the nobel prize awards, history and information on the creation of the award by the inventor of dynamite.

The Nobel Prize Awards

Listings of the laureates are based on the official Nobelstiftelsens Kalender, published annually by the Nobel Foundation, Stockholm. The new feature, "Behind the Award," is exclusive and based on firsthand private interviews with the Nobel Prize judges and officials, with Scandinavian journalists who have covered the awards for many years, and with Nobel Prize winners around the world.

Alfred Bernhard Nobel, a shy, unhappy Swedish bachelor, invented dynamite, and became one of the richest men in the world. To ease his conscience after inventing the deadly explosive--and because he did not believe in leaving his millions to relatives ("inherited wealth is a misfortune which merely serves to dull man's faculties")--Nobel decided to leave his fortune to reward "those persons who shall have contributed most materially to the benefit of mankind during the year immediately preceding." With this reward in mind, Alfred Nobel, seated in the Swedish Club of Paris, on November 27, 1895, in the presence of 4 witnesses, writing on a torn half sheet of paper, signed a brief homemade will establishing the Nobel Prizes. Two weeks later Nobel was dead.

The Nobel Foundation, at Sturegatan 14 in Stockholm, run by a board of 6 members whose chairman is appointed by the Government, administers Nobel's will and oversees the investment of his money. Nobel left behind $9 million to be invested "in safe securities . . . the interest accruing from which shall be annually awarded in prizes." The prizewinning money, now worth $37 million, comes from interest on investments in Swedish real estate, bonds, railroad securities; in Danish, Japanese, Dutch, French, West German securities; and in American Wall Street common stocks, which are handled by Brittingham, Inc., of Wilmington, Del.

The 5 original awards--in the fields of literature, physics, chemistry, medicine, peace--are voted upon by 4 organizations, 3 in Stockholm and one in Oslo. The Swedish Academy of Science votes for the annual winners in physics and chemistry. The Caroline Institute, Sweden's leading hospital, has its staff of 45 physicians and instructors decide the medicine prize. The Swedish Academy, consisting of 18 writers, votes the award in literature. Because Nobel wanted to draw neighboring Norway closer to Sweden, he arranged for the peace prize to be given by a Nobel Committee of 5 prominent Norwegians appointed by the Storting, Norway's governing body. In 1968, a 6th award was established by the Central Bank of Sweden--a yearly prize in economics to be voted upon by members of the Swedish Academy of Science.

Annually, on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death, in Stockholm and in Oslo, each prizewinner receives a gold medal, illuminated diploma, and an envelope containing a cash pledge of anywhere from $30,000 to $125,000--tax-free for American winners.

Generally, prizes have gone to the foremost creative persons in each field. Yet numerous awards have reflected the prejudices and politics of the Scandinavian judges. The Swedish Nobel Prize institutions have been consistently anti-Russian in the science and literature awards, contemptuously anti-American in the literature awards, persistently pro-German in science (until Germany lost W.W. II), and always pro-Scandinavian in every category.

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