Alfred Nobel was one of the most successful entrepreneurs of the nineteenth century. In 1867 he patented his new explosive – ‘dynamite’. Soon he had patents in every industrialized country. By 1880 he was head of the largest dynamite-producing cartel in the world. Royalties, dividends and profits grew. And then one day a simple mistake changed his life forever.
A French newspaper confused the death of Nobel’s brother, Ludvig, with his own. Alfred got the opportunity to do what many of us would love to do – he sat down with a cup of coffee, read his own obituary and saw what people had made of his life. But he read phrases like ‘merchant of death’, and ‘his fortune was amassed finding new ways to mutilate and kill’. As Nobel held the newspaper in his hands, he vowed that this was not how he would be remembered, and he decided that, from that very day, his life would be not just successful but significant.
He began using his vast wealth to encourage the arts, science and above all peace. Few who watched as Nelson Mandela walked up to the podium in 1995 to collect the Nobel Peace Prize realized that the event was due to the error of a Swedish journalist who, by his simple mistake, changed another man’s life forever and thus introduced into the world a prize that continues to affect generations all over the world.