Alfred Nobel died on December 10th, 1896. When his will was opened, people were shocked. A vast sum of money was left to a not-yet-established prize organization, specifying that prizes be given out to the person or persons who in the previous year had given the greatest benefit in five fields: "Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace" (nobelprize.org). Why was Nobel able to accumulate this massive amount of money, and why did he leave his money as he did, influencing his own legacy?
As a child, Nobel was highly intelligent. By age 18, Nobel knew five languages: Swedish, Russian, German, English and French. This ability gave him an advantage in business, helping him communicate and build factories in different countries. He was also a lonely, sickly child which made him "particularly suitable to spending long hours in the laboratory, experimenting with nitroglycerin", which he learned about when sent to study abroad ("Modern Marvels - Dynamite"). During his studies, he met Asciano Sobrero, inventor of nitroglycerin, who had a given up on nitroglycerin after an accident occurred, proclaiming it too volatile.
Nobel was a visionary. He believed there was a way to make nitroglycerin a more stable and practical explosive. Yet the years of experimenting proved deadly for many, like Nobel's brother, Emil killed in an accident; however this did not slow Nobel's experimentation. Although distraught over his brother's death, he felt that risk was part of working with explosives, and that his death served a greater purpose for mankind.
In addition, he had the ability to detect important information revealed accidentally. This quality influenced two of Nobel's most significant inventions: Dynamite, discovered when a tube of nitroglycerine was dropped in a box of sawdust, and Blasting Gel, discovered when collodion used to cover a cut was mixed with nitroglycerin.
Nobel was also an innovator and businessman. He not only researched but he also understood the practical applications and had the ability to market his inventions. In addition, he had the business sense to apply for patents and start companies around the world which increased his wealth.
Although perhaps contradictory, throughout Nobel's life, he considered himself a pacifist. His philosophy was that if every country had high-explosives, fear would prevent attacks. Therefore, he was sure that his inventions would benefit, not hurt, mankind. However, towards the end of his life, he began to realize how history would remember him. Whether for altruistic reasons or to memorialize his family name, he created the Nobel Prizes.
To this day the prizes, and his legacy, live on.