What do a widely used explosive compound and the World’s most prominent peace prize have in common? Well, I’m not going to tell you, you’ll just have to read my article. It’ll just take me a moment to type it up for you….so how have you been? Yeah, the weather is great. Alright sorry to keep you waiting but this is the brilliant invention that simultaneously saved millions, killed millions and made the inventor many millions. This is the story of dynamite.
An innovation by any other name
There are few inventions in history that have been responsible for shaping the modern World. I mean literally as in few inventions have been used to blow away at the surface of our planet to create roads, dams, railroads and pillage precious minerals from deep below the Earth’s surface.
Well, dynamite has this illustrious distinction. Why is that you ask, well timing and because previous explosives weren’t strong enough or exploded when moved abruptly. And that’s exactly what you want when dealing with explosives right? Yes, because before a certain still unnamed Swedish chemist figured out a stable explosive, people were using pitiful black powder and the highly temperamental nitroglycerine. How temperamental you ask? Look at this video.
As you can see the reaction when initiated by the striking of a drop of the nitro is extremely violent and extremely rapid. Those two aforementioned “extremely-s” are the type of things that result in maiming, dismemberment, scaring, burning and other unsavory effects on skin and other mushy parts of the admittedly mushy human body. Oh, watch this video too.
Notice that the man doing the hammering isn’t putting that much effort into his strike, yet the force creates not only a concussive wave but a visible shockwave around the anvil. Aren’t you happy we have dynamite? Watch this one too, but just so you know what not to do with explosives. Basically, the guy has created a throwable cannon ball with its own explosive wrapped around it - sounds like a great idea.
Alright, I see you’re anxious for the death and destruction, but let me wrap up the back story. The gentlemen that created the most widely used explosive of the previous century was none other than the man the Nobel Peace Prize is named after, Swedish Chemist, Alfred Nobel. Some argue that his motivation for founding the prize was because he created his goose that lays golden eggs (that explode).
Something many people don’t know is the fact that he came from a long and envious history of war industrialists. His family owned an armaments factory during the mid 1800s. They almost went bankrupt after the Crimean war that kept the family’s business going, because peace doesn’t make anyone money, and the family returned to Sweden. Upon returning Alfred dedicated all of his research to explosives.
Although he was constantly attempting to stabilize the notoriously unstable explosive Nitroglycerine, he was a little late to the party, as his classmate Ascanio Sobrero had invented the powerful explosive. That didn’t bother Nobel, of course, since he dedicated his life to producing the explosive in a safe and non-blow-uppy way.
Unfortunately he was late to that party too, as a nitroglycerine explosion at one of his factories killed 5 people including Alfred’s youngest brother Emil. But unperturbed by exploding family members Nobel continued his research. He also continued founding factories that produced nitroglycerine too.
The Greek Word for Power
Eventually, Nobel managed to produce a safe alternative to nitroglycerine and even considered calling it: Nobel’s Safety Powder, which is much lamer than the name he ended up with: Dynamite from the Greek word dynami. He also invented the precursor to plastic explosives he named Gelignite, which was a transparent malleable explosive and ballistite which was a precursor to modern day smokeless explosives use in firearm rounds.
Although the explosive was dangerous it was actually the hazardous manufacturing process that gained Nobel his nickname “the merchant of death”. OK, the other explosives he developed and produced didn’t really help either. You’ve got to wonder, did Nobel have some sort of explosion fetish. I mean was he some sort of twisted explosio-philiac, or auto-erotic-explosiac maybe?
Oh the Humanity
OK, so now you’re sitting there with an overtly perplexed look on your face wondering how someone that created so much death and destruction be associated with the greatest peace prize in the world. An award that has been bestowed upon: Malala Yousafzai, who was a teenage advocate for women’s education in Taliban controlled Pakistan. Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid revolutionary that reunified South Africa, but had to spend 27 years of his life in prison and hard labor camps as well as many others that suffered during their fight for human dignity and rights.
Well, you see dear reader, one tragic day Alfred’s brother (this is the another brother, not the blown up one, just thought I’d clarify for all the zombie weirdoes in the crowd) and a French newspaper published Alfred Nobel’s obituary instead of the truly deceased Nobel. The obituary called Alfred Nobel a merchant of death and someone that capitalized heavily on inventing ways to kill people.
Well, this made Nobel think of the legacy he’d leave behind (he didn’t have kids or a wife, just another indication that he was a erotically aroused exploder) and he decided to leave the remainder of his substantial estate to fund a prize to be awarded to individuals that innovated in the field of Physics, Chemistry, Literature, Economics and World Peace. In my humble opinion the Peace Prize not only rewards the individuals’ suffering for their cause but in many cases promotes the causes that they suffered for. Hey after killing maiming and blowing up a family member that’s not a horrible legacy to leave behind!
Do you know any other juicy tidbits about the man that is a synonym for peace yet invented deadly explosives as his day job? Well, let me know in the comment section below. I can’t guarantee you a Nobel in writing, but it’s definitely going to be read by at least five people…You know what that seems like an overestimation, maybe three people will read it. Still feel free to leave a comment in the little white box below!