Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) was a Swedish chemist, most famous for inventing dynamite, and founding the Nobel Prize, which has awarded since 1901 for efforts in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace. All prizes are presented in Stockholm, except the peace prize which is presented in Oslo.
This article includes destinations related to the life and works of Alfred Nobel, as well as the prize.
Alfred Nobel was something of a pacifist and was dismayed at the many military and terroristic uses of his invention, dynamite, the first safe high potency explosive. According to an often-repeated story, Nobel was so distraught when a premature obituary called him "the merchant of death" that he decided to use his (in his mind) ill-begotten wealth for more noble aims, thus instituting the Nobel Prize from his inheritance.
The Nobel Prize
According to Nobel's will, the prize laureates are selected by institutions in Sweden and Norway: the Swedish Royal Science Academy for physics and chemistry, the Karolinska Institute for medicine, the Swedish Academy for literature, and a committee appointed by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) for peace. All prizes can be shared by up to three individuals, except the peace prize, which can be awarded to organizations. It is not entirely clear why Nobel chose a Norwegian institution (and a parliament at that) for the peace prize when all other prices were to be awarded by Swedish institutions, but a possible explanation lies in the political institutions of the time; when Nobel wrote his will, Norway was still in a union with Sweden and the Norwegian parliament had no official role in foreign policy. It is therefore believed that Nobel thought the Norwegian parliament would be the most qualified body that could be relied on to be sufficiently neutral to award the Peace Prize. Its subsequent history has shown this to not always hold up as Nobel had planned.
Nobel's will says that a laureate should be rewarded "whether he is Scandinavian or not". This statement was controversial in the late 19th century, during the height of nationalism, as philantropists were expected to serve their homeland, or at least their own cultural sphere. Sweden was in a union with Norway until 1905, and the other Nordic nations were seen as brother peoples, with a Scandinavian union considered but never realized. Ironically, Nobel's internationalist clause made the Nobel Prize world famous, and gave Sweden more prestige than anyone could expect.
The laureates are revealed in early October, one prize daily from Monday to Friday. The physics, chemistry and medicine prizes are main events within the global scientific community; still, international news media tend to emphasize the literature prize on Thursday, and perhaps even more the peace prize on Friday.
The prizes are presented on 10 December. In Stockholm, the laureates receive the medal and diploma from the hands of the monarch of Sweden.
While the "scientific" Nobel Prizes have had their share of scandals - several medical procedures once deemed worthy of a Nobel Prize are now seen as ethically dubious at the least- the biggest controversies naturally surround the awarding of the much more subjective Nobel Prizes for Peace and Literature. Was Rosalind Watson denied the prize because she was a female? Some say she was more worthy than Crick and Watson who actually won it. The double edged nature of scientific advancement that was a theme of Nobel's own life can be seen also in the works of Nobel laureates like Fritz Haber (inventor of a new method to synthesize ammonia from nitrogen - used for both fertilizer and bombs) or those involved in the research into nuclear physics, which were used both to produce energy and to destroy cities in war.
Nobel Prizes have always reflected political and economic realities. Prior to the Nazi era, German scientists dominated the Nobel Prizes for physics, medicine and chemistry, a position now enjoyed by the United States. The literature Nobel Prize is often accused of having a Western, particularly Nordic bias, and the peace prize is mired in politics to the point that some laureates have themselves declared they hadn't (yet) deserved the honor when it was announced.
Winning a prize puts the winner in the elite of his/her profession.
The Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics is presented together with the Nobel Prizes; it was however founded in 1969 by the Swedish Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) and is casually referred to as the "Nobel Prize for economics", though it has no connection whatsoever with any member of the Nobel family.
The Crafoord Prize was founded by Swedish industrialist Holger Crafoord (1908-1982), awarded since 1982 in sciences not covered by the Nobel Prize: astronomy and mathematics, geosciences, and biosciences, following a triennal schedule. The prize can also be awarded for polyarthritis research, since Holger Crafoord had the disease. As for the Nobel Prize, the Crafoord laureates are selected by the Scientific Academy, and receive the award from the Monarch of Sweden.
Like the Nobel Prize, the Polar Music Prize is handed out annually by the Monarch of Sweden in the Stockholm Concert Hall. The prize was founded by Stig Andersson, famous as ABBA's manager, and has been awarded since 1992, usually in two categories: classical and popular music.
Many awards in other fields are sometimes referred to as "the Nobel prize of x" and some institutions deliberately award amounts of money similar to or higher than that awarded for Nobel Prizes to draw attention to their prize and/or convince potential laureates to accept them. Perhaps the most famous of these are the Fields Medal in mathematics, the Turing Award in computer science, the Pulitzer Prize in journalism and the Pritzker Prize in architecture.
- 1 Den Gyldene Freden, Österlånggatan 51. This restaurant is known since 1722, making it one of Sweden's oldest. The members of the Swedish Academy (famous as the jury for the Nobel Prize for Literature) eat here every Thursday.
- 1 Nobel Prize Museum (Nobelmuseet), Stortorget. Located in the old Stock Exchange building from 1776 (which replaced the first town hall). The Nobel Prize Museum has lots of material on the Nobel Prize, including videotaped speeches by laureates. Since 1914, the upper floor is used by the 18 members of the Swedish Academy. Founded by Gustav III in 1786, it used to be one of Sweden's most renowned institutions, famous for their Swedish dictionary, and since 1901 as the jury for the Nobel Prize for literature. In 2017, the #metoo movement revealed that the husband of a member had a lengthy record of sexual abuse and fraud, and ended up in prison. The scandal caused several members to resign, and shut down the Nobel Prize for literature the following year.
- 2 Riksbron. This bridge was built in 1931, and provides a great view of Stockholm's government offices, and of Norrström, the stream from Mälaren to the Baltic Sea. To the west, you can see two important locations in the history of the Nobel Prize: Heleneborg and Stockholm City Hall.
- 1 Heleneborg. Heleneborg is a mansion on western Södermalm, difficult to see from far away, but it is in the southwest, just below the twin towers of the 1920s Högalid Church. The property's waterfront has been used for various industries since the 17th century; the most famous tenant was the Nobel family, in the 1860s. The Industrial Revolution created demand for the newly discovered nitroglycerin: as it was dangerously unstable, the young chemist Alfred Nobel experimented for a more practical formula. On September 3, 1864, an explosion (which was heard across the city) killed six people, including Alfred's 21-year old brother Emil. The city tightened safety rules, forcing Alfred to relocate the experiments to barges on the lake, and a facility in Vinterviken, a few kilometers further south of Stockholm. Two years later, he invented dynamite and made a fortune, most of which became the foundation for the Nobel Prize, for physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace.
- 2 Stockholm City Hall (Stadshuset) (Kungsholmen). On the eastern edge of Kungsholmen, an enormous steam-powered grain mill named Eldkvarn was built here. It burnt down on 31 October 1878, lighting up the city, coining the still used phrase "sedan Eldkvarn brann" (since Eldkvarn burnt down) for something that happened long ago. The 1923 City Hall features the Three Crowns, Sweden's coat of arms since the 14th century. The exact origin of the three crowns is unknown; it has been said to represent Norse gods Odin, Thor and Frey, or the Biblical Magi. The Nobel Prize Banquet is held in the City Hall on 10 December every year.
- 2 Grand Hôtel, Södra Blasieholmshamnen 8. A Grand Old Hotel opened in 1874 overlooking the Royal Palace, and the usual accommodation for visiting heads of state, Nobel laureates and pop stars, who can usually walk around the neighbourhood without being to disturbed by fans. The first Nobel Prize ceremonies were held here, and room No 702 is the astounding Nobel Room, where the literature prize winners stay overnight. The restaurant gives an excellent Swedish smörgåsbord, one of the very few establishments in Scandinavia that still does so. Check out the piano bar, a delightful end-of-the-evening place to get a sophisticated drink.
- 3 Sveriges Riksbank. The earlier mentioned Riksbank resides here since 1976. In 1968 the bank issued a prize in economics in the memory of Alfred Nobel, together with the regular Nobel Prizes. As Sweden rejected the euro in a 2003 referendum, it remains the world's oldest central bank. As of 2020, Sweden is one of the world's most cashless countries.
- 4 Stockholm Concert Hall (Stockholms konserthus). A Swedish Grace building opened in 1926, the home stage of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and the place of the annual Nobel Prize ceremony (except the peace prize which is awarded in Oslo), as well as the Polar Music Prize since 1989, and the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award for children's literature since 2003.
- 3 Urban Deli rooftop bar, Sveavägen 44. Thulehuset is a 1942 functionalist office building. Urban Deli is a trendy grocery chain with a rooftop bar.
- 3 Wenner-Gren Center. An office tower for international researchers, which was Europe's tallest steel skyscraper when finished in 1961.
- 4 Norra tornen. Residential twin skyscrapers finished in 2020. Between Wenner-Gren Center and Norra tornen, a new campus district named Hagastaden is being built during the 2020s, around the Karolinska Institute (famous for handing out the Nobel Prize for medicine), with the intention to develop Stockholm as a science cluster for the future.
- 5 The Nobel Museum, Karlskoga (Karlskoga).
- 6 Nobel Peace Centre (Oslo). Includes some confronting exhibitions and an exhibit for every winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Included in the Oslo Pass.