Science History

The History of the Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize is one of the most prestigious awards in the world. It is awarded annually for outstanding works in Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Economics, and the promotion of peace. These prizes were established by the will of Alfred Nobel, and are traditionally awarded on December 10 every year since 1901. To know more about these Nobel Prizes, let’s take a look back on its interesting history and discover how it began.

The Founder

The Nobel Prize was founded by a Swedish industrialist named Alfred Nobel. He was born in Stockholm in 1833 and spent his childhood in St. Petersburg, Russia, where his father established some businesses. He was able to speak several languages fluently when he was young and he had spent time in different European countries, as well as the United States.


As an adult, Alfred Nobel became known as the inventor of dynamite and other creations that are chemically based like synthetic rubber and leather. He was a successful businessman who owns a lot of factories throughout Europe. But at the same time, Nobel was also deeply interested in literature and social issues.

Alfred Nobel died at the age of 63 in San Remo, Italy on December 10, 1896, due to a cerebral hemorrhage. His will left numerous inheritances to his relatives and friends, but at the same time, it specified that the bulk of his fortune should be used to establish a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the earlier year, have granted the greatest benefit on mankind in the field of Science, Literature, and Peace. He designated most of his estate to establish the prestigious prizes that bear his name which is the Nobel Prizes.

The Prizes

Based on Alfred Nobel’s will, there are five original Nobel Prizes which are physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and peace. The Nobel Foundation, which aims to award those who greatly serve humanity, was established on June 29, 1900, in honor and heed of the last will of Alfred Nobel. The foundation is composed of the Chairman of the Board, and four members, who are delegated by the Swedish King in Council and the trustees respectively.

In 1968, a sixth prize was established by Sveriges Riksbank which is the Swedish central bank. The prize was properly known as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. In 1969, the first Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was awarded to Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch for their development of the dynamic models for the analysis of economic processes.

Winners of the Nobel Prizes receive a medal, a diploma, and cash. The cash prize depends on the income accumulated by the Nobel Foundation fund. The awarding process takes about a year to determine the recommendations for the nominations and the selection of winners. Usually, the winners are announced by November 15, and the five Nobel Prizes are awarded to the winners on the death anniversary of Alfred Nobel which is on December 10.

Also included in Alfred Nobel’s will are the various organizations that he wanted to be responsible for selecting the winners. For the Literature Prize, he had chosen the Swedish Academy to choose the winners, while the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is responsible in choosing the laureates in chemistry and physics, as well in awarding the winner of the Economics Prize on behalf of Sveriges Riksbank. The winners of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, on the other hand, is awarded by Karolinska Institutet, which is the leading medical university.

Most of the Nobel Prizes are awarded by Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf in Stockholm. The only one that is not presented in Stockholm is the Nobel Peace Prize, which is awarded in Oslo by the Chairman of the Norweigan Nobel Committee, with Norway’s King Harald V in attendance. The Norweigan Nobel Committee appointed by the Norweigan Parliament is responsible for choosing the Peace Prize laureates.

No one knows why Alfred Nobel wanted the Peace Prize to be given out in Norway, but according to a theory, it’s because Norway and Sweden were in the union at that time. However, the union was dissolved in 1905, four years after the first awards were given.

One of the most notable laureates who was awarded two Nobel Prizes in 1903 and 1911 was Marie Curie, a scientist who discovered radiation and its radioactive elements such as polonium and radium. Another notable laureate in the field of Science was Sir Alexander Fleming, who received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with Ernst Chain and Sir Howard Florey for the development of penicillin that could cure infectious diseases.

The First Nobel Prize Awarded

Five years after the death of Alfred Nobel, the first Nobel Prize was awarded to Wilhelm Rontgen by the Nobel Foundation. He received the Nobel Physics Prize for his discovery of X-rays in 1901. The first Nobel Prize in Chemistry, on the other hand, was received by Jacobus Henricus van ’t Hoff for his discovery of the laws of chemical dynamics and osmotic pressure in solutions.

Emil von Behring, a German physiologist, and microbiologist were granted the Nobel prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work on serum therapy and development of antitoxin that could treat diphtheria. In the field of Literature, Sully Prudhomme was awarded the Nobel prize for his poetic composition, which depicted idealism, artistic perfection, and qualities of heart and intellect.

The Swiss Jean Henri Dunant received the first Nobel Peace Prize for establishing the International Red Cross Movement, together with Frederic Passy, who founded the Peace League.

During the Second World War

The Second World War in 1939 halted the awarding of the Nobel Prize. No prizes were awarded because of the occupation of Germans in Norway from 1940 to 1942. In 1943, the Nobel Prizes in Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine were awarded again. However, no one was awarded for Nobel prize in Literature and Peace that year. But in 1944, the Nobel Foundation started awarding all the five Nobel Prizes once again.

The Nobel Prize Winners in the 20th Century

Nobel Prize is constantly recognized as the highly-respected award until the 20th century. Thousands of important people known for their great contributions to mankind have received the Nobel Prize since its foundation over a century ago.

Some of the significant laureates who received the Nobel Prize in the 20th century were Albert Einstein who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921, and Werner Heisenberg who won the Nobel Physics Prize in 1932 for uncovering the principles of quantum mechanics. In 1962, Francis Crick, James Watson, and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the discovery of the double helix structure.

The recent Nobel Physics Prize in 2017 was granted to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne for their study and knowledge about the LIGO detector and gravitational waves. Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was received by Jacques Dubochet, Joachim Frank, and Richard Henderson for the creation of cryo-electron microscopy.

Nobel Prize is indeed one of the most prestigious awards in the world to be received by individuals who have contributed in the six categories. It is truly a life-changing honor because the award brings the people’s contributions a worldwide recognition, and it also gives them funds for them to continue and further their missions. It is a prize that attracts the best and the brightest minds.

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