Alfred Bernhard Nobel (help·info), born on 21 October 1833 in Stockholm Sweden, was a chemist, engineer, innovator, armaments manufacturer and the inventor of dynamite. He owned Bofors, a major armaments manufacturer, which he had redirected from its original business as an iron and steel mill. Nobel held 355 different patents, dynamite being the most famous. Nobel amassed a sizeable personal fortune during his lifetime, thanks mostly to this invention. In 1896 Nobel died of a stroke in his villa in San Remo, Italy where he had lived out the last years of his life.
Nobel's will expressed a request, to the surprise of many, that his money be used for prizes in physics, chemistry, peace, physiology or medicine and literature. Though Nobel wrote several wills during his lifetime, the last was written a little over a year before he died, and signed at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris on 27 November 1895. Nobel bequeathed 94% of his total assets, 31 million Swedish kronor, to establish and endow the five Nobel Prizes. (As of 2008 that equates to 186 million US dollars.)
Alfred Nobel's will
from 25 November 1895
||The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way:
The capital shall be invested by my executors in safe securities and shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: 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 of an idealistic tendency; and one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity among nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.
The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; that for physiological or medical works by Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm; that for literature by the Academy in Stockholm; and that for champions of peace by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my expressed wish that in awarding the prizes no consideration whatever shall be given to the nationality of the candidates, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not.
|— Alfred Nobel, Alfred Nobel's Will
The executors of his will were Ragnar Sohlman and
Rudolf Lilljequist who formed the Nobel Foundation to take care of Nobel's fortune and organize the prizes. Although Nobel's will established the prizes, his plan was incomplete and, because of various other hurdles, it took five years before the Nobel Foundation could be established and the first prizes could be awarded on 10 December 1901 to, among others, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen. As of 31 December 2015, the assets controlled by the Nobel Foundation amounted to 4.065 billion Swedish kronor (approx. US$443 million as of 12 December 2016).
The Nobel Foundation
Portrait of Alfred Nobel by Gösta Florman
The Nobel Foundation was founded as a private organisation on 29 June 1900 specifically to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prizes. It is based on Nobel's last will and testament. At the time Nobel's will led to much specticism and criticism and thus it was not until 26 April 1897 that his will was approved by the Storting. Soon thereafter they appointed the members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that was to award the Peace Prize. Shortly after, the other prize-awarding organizations followed; Karolinska Institutet on 7 June, the Swedish Academy on 9 June and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on 11 June. The next thing the Nobel Foundation did was to try to agree on guidelines for how the Nobel Prize should be awarded. In 1900 the Nobel Foundation's newly created statutes were promulgated by King Oscar II.
In 1905 the Union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved which meant the responsibility for awarding Nobel Prizes was split between the two countries. Norway's Nobel Committee became the awarder of the Peace Prize while Sweden became the awarder of the other prizes.
In accordance with Nobel's will, the primary task of the Nobel Foundation is to manage the fortune Nobel left after him in a fund. Another important task of the Nobel Foundation is to represent the Nobel Prize to the outside world and to take charge of informal activities and issues related to the awarding of the Nobel Prizes. The Nobel Foundation is not involved in any way in the process of selecting the Nobel laureates. In many ways the Nobel Foundation is similar to an investment company in that it invests money in various ways to create a solid funding base for the prize and the administrative activities. The Nobel Foundation is exempt from all taxes in Sweden (since 1946) and from investment taxes in the United States (since 1953). Since the 1980s the Foundation's investments began to earn more money than previously. At the beginning of the 1980s the award money was 1 million SEK but in 2008 the award money had increased to 10 million SEK.
According to the statutes the Foundation should consist of a Board with its seat in Stockholm. It should consist of five men. The Chairman of the board should be appointed by the King in Council. The other four members should be appointed by the trustees of the prize awarding institutions. The Board's first task was to choose an executive director from among the board members. A deputy director should be appointed by the King in Council and two deputies for the other members were appointed by the Trustees. However, since 1995 all the members of the board have been chosen by the Trustees and the Executive Director and the deputy Director appointed by the board itself.
Apart from the board, the Nobel Foundation is made up by the prize-awarding institutions (the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Nobel Assembly, the Swedish Academy and the Norwegian Nobel Committee), the trustees of the prize-awarding institutions and auditors.