Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Alfred Nobel

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Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), chemist and engineer.

1833 Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born in Stockholm on the 21st of October, the third son of Emmanuel Nobel (1801-1872). This was also the year that his father became bankrupt.

1837 Emmanuel Nobel moved to Finland and then to St Petersburg, Russia, where he started a mechanical workshop (some say a torpedo {i.e. naval mine} works); he left his family behind in Sweden.

1842 The Nobel family was reunited in St Petersburg.

1850-1852 Alfred Nobel went to Paris and worked for a year in the laboratory of T. Jules Pelouze. He also travelled to Italy, Germany and the USA.

More than 1500 naval mines designed by Moritz von Jacobi and Alfred Nobel were set by Russian naval specialists in the Gulf of Finland during the Crimean War[1].

1859 Emmanuel's second son, Ludvig Emmanuel (1831-1888), took over the torpedo works and greatly enlarged them.

1862 Nikolai N. Zinin, Nobel's chemistry teacher, introduced him to nitroglycerin.

1863 Alfred Nobel obtained his first patent on nitroglycerin (blasting oil) used as an industrial explosive. He developed and patented a detonator (blasting cap) for triggering its explosion. He returned to Stockholm, where he continued his experiments concentrating on developing nitroglycerin as an explosive.

1864 Emil, Alfred Nobel's brother, was killed during the preparation of nitroglycerin at Heleneborg, Stockholm. Experimentation with explosives was made illegal in Stockholm so Alfred moved his experiments outside Stockholm. He also formed the company Nitroglycerin AB.

1865 Alfred Nobel improved the blasting cap design and moved to Germany, setting up Alfred Nobel and Co, with a factory in Krümmel near Hamburg.

1866 Nobel established the United States Blasting Oil Co. A violent explosion destroyed the Krümmel plant. Alfred Nobel tried to make nitroglycerin safer to handle, carrying out experiments on a raft anchored on the river Elbe. He found that nitroglycerin could be stabilized by the addition of kieselguhr (a siliceous deposit; also known as diatomaceous earth) and called this mixture dynamite.

1867 Alfred Nobel obtained a patent for dynamite.

1868 Nobel visited the UK to assess the prospects.

1871 Nobel established the British Dynamite Co at Ardeer in Scotland, in which he held half of the shares.

1872 Emmanuel Nobel died.

1873 Alfred Nobel moved to Paris, to Avenue Malakoff.

1873 The manufacture of nitroglycerin and dynamite started at Ardeer.

1875 Alfred Nobel combined nitroglycerin with gun-cotton to obtain a transparent, jelly-like substance which was even more powerful an explosive than dynamite. This was called "Blasting gelatine", and was patented in 1876, to be followed by various related combinations, modified by the addition of potassium nitrate, wood-pulp and various other substances.

1875. Explosive Act.

1876 Nobel established Société Générale pour la Fabrication de la Dynamite in Paris. Alfred Nobel and Co was renamed Dynamit Aktiengesellschaft (DAG). Nobel and his partner Paul Barbe held a near majority of the shares in these and the other national companies.

In 1877 the name of the British Dynamite Co was changed to Nobel's Explosives Co.

1880 Nobel merged his Italian and Swiss companies to form Dynamite Nobel.

1881 Alfred Nobel bought an estate and laboratory at Sevran outside Paris.

Early 1880s, Alfred sold the larger part of his shares in the dynamite companies to invest in the Baku oil fields that his brothers, Ludvig and Robert Hjalmar (1829-1896), were developing.

1885 German Union was established by merging DAG and a group of German dynamite companies.

1886 The Nobel-Dynamite Trust Co was formed in London to bring together DAG and Nobel's Explosives Co; Alfred held 6 per cent of the shares. In 1887, the French, the Spanish and the Italian-Swiss companies were merged into la Société Centrale, also known as the Latin Trust, in which Alfred held 2 per cent of the shares. Alfred drew back from the commercial activities to concentrate on research.

Nobel produced the blasting powder "ballistite", one of the earliest of the nitroglycerin smokeless powders, from gun-cotton and nitroglycerin.

1887 Nobel obtained a patent for "ballistite" in France.

Nobel claimed that his patent on "ballistite" covered cordite but this was contested by the British Government in a series of lawsuits in 1894 and 1895. The difference was in the degree of nitration, which affected its solubility in ether/alcohol mixtures. Eventually the courts decided against Nobel.

1891 Alfred Nobel left Paris and settled in San Remo, Italy, after a dispute with the French government over ballistite.

1894 Alfred Nobel bought a small machine works (Bofors-Gullspång) which included a manor (Björkborn) at Karlskoga, Sweden; Bofors may have provided a site for experimenting with explosives and weapons technology.

1896 Alfred Nobel died on the 10th of December at San Remo. Nobel left the bulk of his fortune in trust for the establishment of five prizes, each worth several thousand pounds, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality. The first three of these prizes were for eminence in physical science, in chemistry and in medical science or physiology; the fourth was for the most remarkable literary work in the field of idealism; the fifth was to be given to the person or society that rendered the greatest service to the cause of international brotherhood, in the suppression or reduction of standing armies, or in the establishment or furtherance of peace congresses.


Obituary (1833-1896)

" ...Mr. Nobel's name will always be associated with the high explosives, in which the base is nitro-glycerine, as he was the first to turn to practical account the discovery of Sobrero in 1847, who, working in the laboratory of Pelouze, found that by acting upon glycerine with a mixture of nitric and sulphuric acids of great strength, a. highly explosive substance was formed.

At first it was attempted to use this liquid, "glonine," as it was called, in its original state, and Nobel was the first to use it in this form. But after several serious explosions bad occurred, owing to the great sensitiveness of the liquid, the new explosive got into very bad odour, and its use was almost, if not entirely, given up. In 1864, however, Nobel took out a patent for the production of an explosive, now well known under the title of dynamite. His object was to render the use of nitro-glycerine not only safe for blasting, &c., but also for transport. In his patent he says: "This invention relates to the use of ..." More[2]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Early use of naval mines: [1]
  2. The Engineer 1896/12/18, p641
  • Nobel, Alfred Bernhard, as cited in 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica[2]
  • Alfred Nobel - Timeline [3]
  • The Nobel Dynamite Companies [4]