A look at Al­fred No­bel’s last will & tes­ta­ment

The China Post - - ARTS & LEISURE -

Swedish in­ven­tor and scholar Al­fred No­bel, who made a vast for­tune from his in­ven­tion of dy­na­mite in 1866, or­dered the cre­ation of the fa­mous No­bel prizes in his will.

His 1895 tes­ta­ment stip­u­lated his for­tune was to be placed in a fund des­tined to honor “those who, dur­ing the pre­ced­ing year, shall have con­ferred the great­est ben­e­fit on mankind.”

He died a year later in San Remo, Italy.

No­bel had de­creed the bulk of his es­tate should be in­vested in “safe se­cu­ri­ties” and, as a re­sult, some 31.5 mil­lion Swedish kro­nor, the equiv­a­lent to­day of about 1.7 bil­lion Swedish kro­nor (US$268 mil­lion) were used to cre­ate the No­bel Foun­da­tion.

No­bel’s will spec­i­fied that the prizes should be di­vided into five equal parts for physics, chem­istry, medicine, literature and peace:

“One part to the per­son who shall have made the most im­por­tant dis­cov­ery or in­ven­tion within the field of physics; one part to the per­son who shall have made the most im­por­tant chem­i­cal dis­cov­ery or im­prove­ment; one part to the per­son who shall have made the most im­por­tant dis­cov­ery within the do­main of phys­i­ol­ogy or medicine; one part to the per­son who shall have pro­duced in the field of literature the most out­stand­ing work in an ideal di­rec­tion; and one part to the per­son who shall have done the most or the best work for fra­ter­nity be­tween na­tions, for the abo­li­tion or re­duc­tion of stand­ing armies and for the hold­ing and pro­mo­tion of peace con­gresses.”


When No­bel died child­less and the will was read, the con­tents sur­prised many, in­clud­ing his own fam­ily.

The doc­u­ment was chal­lenged by two neph­ews who tried to have it de­clared null and void, and even King Os­car II of Swe­den op­posed No­bel’s wishes, say­ing they were not “pa­tri­otic minded.”

Adding to the con­fu­sion, No­bel had not ap­pointed an ex­ecu­tor for the tes­ta­ment, nor had he con­sulted the var­i­ous in­sti­tu­tions he had as­signed to award the prizes to en­sure that they were will­ing to un­der­take the task.

Af­ter more than three years of hag­gling, the No­bel Foun­da­tion was cre­ated to man­age the cap­i­tal in the in­ven­tor’s es­tate and the five in­sti­tu­tions agreed to award the prizes as No­bel had wished.

Since 1901, the year the first No­bel prizes were awarded, the Foun­da­tion has funded the pres­ti­gious awards cre­ated by their name­sake.

The No­bel Prize for Eco­nom­ics, the only award not in­cluded in No­bel’s will, is funded by the Swedish Cen­tral Bank, which cre­ated the prize at its 300-year an­niver­sary in 1968. It was first awarded in 1969.

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