Alfred Nobel's Will

On November 27, 1895, in Paris, Alfred Bernhard Nobel signed his will. After his death in December 1896, many people tensely awaited the publication of the contents of the will, since it was widely known that Nobel had left one of the world's largest private fortunes. To the great disappointment of some of his relatives and friends, he declared the following last will:

"The whole of my remaining realisable estate shall be disposed of in the following way:
the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually awarded as prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind. The interest shall be divided into five equal parts, to be apportioned as follows: one part to the person who shall have made the most important discovery or invention in the field of physics; one part to the person who shall have made the most important chemical discovery or invention; 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 in the field of literature shall have produced 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 between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses. The prizes for physics and chemistry shall be awarded by the Swedish Academy of Sciences; for physiological or medical works by the Carolinska Institute in Stockholm; for literature by the Academy in Stockholm, and for advocates of peace by a committee of five persons to be selected by the Norwegian Storting. It is my express wish that in the awarding of the prizes no consideration shall be given to national affiliations of any kind, so that the most worthy shall receive the prize, whether he be Scandinavian or not." [Emphases added.]

Some of the relatives sought to have the will declared invalid, and to begin with they had the support of King Oscar II, who held that family claims could not be set aside on the grounds of the aging Alfred Nobel's fanciful ideas. There were moreover many among Sweden's conservatives who hoped to see the realisation of the will prevented because it was "unpatriotic" - the prizes ought to have been reserved for Swedes. But following long and difficult negotiations, in which the Swedish Government was also involved, the executors Ragnar Sohlman and Rudolf Lilljequist finally succeeded in untangling the legal knots. On June 29, 1900, King Oscar II approved the statutes of the newly established Nobel Foundation.

That meant that Alfred Nobel's grand vision could finally come to fruition. On December 10, 1901, the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in Stockholm and Oslo.

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Alfred Nobel's will

Foto: © The Nobel Foundation

The first page of Alfred Nobel's will which established the legal basis for the five Nobel Prizes


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