50 Famous People – Alfred Nobel


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Ok, this one’s going to be easy. Alfred Nobel grew up in a family of inventors and explosives manufacturers. Initially, his father, Immanuel, was in construction, but he liked tinkering with things. Unfortunately, he had bad luck with money and the family was poor for the first 4 years of Alfred’s life. Immanuel went to Russia looking for work. 5 years later, he’d established himself as a black gunpowder manufacturer making water mines (early torpedoes) for the Russian government. The rest of the family joined him in Saint Petersburg. During the Crimean War, the factory swelled to about 1000 employees. However, Russia lost the war, couldn’t make its payments on the services provided, and Immanuel went bankrupt again. Immanuel, his wife and his youngest son, Emil, returned to Sweden, while Alfred and his two older brothers (Ludvig and Robert) stayed in St. Petersburg. Alfred found a way to make nitroglycerin semi-safe and the three of them started up a new factory. In 1864, Emil was killed in an accident at the Stockholm factory and Alfred was spurred on to discover a way to make nitro truly safe to handle. In 1867, he developed dynamite (from the Greek word for “power”). This was followed by gelignite and smokeless black powder. Along with the social benefits of dynamite (being able to quickly make tunnels and canalways), Alfred earned the nickname “merchant of death” due to sales of the product as a weapon on the battlefield. To counter this image, he wrote his will such that his money would be handed out as awards for the peaceful advancement of science; AKA – the Nobel Prizes.

The intro manga has Merrino wanting to create the first “Merrino Fun Awards” to whoever makes people laugh. Yuichi and Daichi get into a tussle insulting each other, and Merrino joins in. To add to the fun, Mohea grabs some fireworks, which turn out to be “Sheep Planet explosives”. She blows up the house. The story wraps up with Mohea explaining that unlike Earth bombs, Sheep planet dynamite is not dangerous. Merrino tries to think of a way to win his own prize and establish his place in history, but Mohea blurts out that the Fun Award should be for future peace, and the rest of the group installs her as the new Sheep ruler.

The main manga is by Akiko Tomita (Kime-Oh, Re:Life and Shiroinu/Kuroneko) this time. The backgrounds and factory drawings are good, but the character designs look like something out of Full Metal Alchemist. There’s no real resemblance to Alfred from his photos. Anyway… The story starts out with Alfred at age 4, sick in bed. He was a weak child and it didn’t help that the family was poor. His two older brothers sell matches on the streets to make ends meet.  Their father leaves for Russia and 5 years later writes a letter telling the family to join him in St. Petersburg. Along with helping in the factory making water mines for the Russian government, the boys study at night. 9 years later, the Crimea War breaks out and orders for black powder go through the roof. One day, a stranger arrives with a vial of liquid that he tries to get the factory to reverse engineer. It doesn’t burn much, but explodes when given a sharp impact. The family loves this new nitroglycerin but is too busy to do anything with it. Then the war ends, Russia loses and the factory goes bankrupt. Immanuel, his wife and Emil return to Sweden, while the other three brothers try their separate hands at their own fates. Alfred develops a way to package nitro in a jar with a black powder detonator, and he opens a factory for the new explosive. Emil also performs research in Stockholm, but some nitro stored in a shed suddenly goes off, killing him and several others. Alfred curses his work with nitro, but the ghost of Emil urges him to find a way to make the stuff safer to handle. The Swedish government bans explosives factories from being in residential areas following this incident, so Alfred sets up his research lab on a boat in the harbor. After trying various fillers, he settles on diatomaceous earth, and creates a new kind of blasting cap. He names the new product “dynamite” and eventually has factories in 10 different countries producing it. He continues researching explosives, and creates gelignite in 1875 and smokeless powder in 1887.  Along with canals and tunnels, mankind also develops bigger war machines and battleships that also use his products. In 1888, Ludvig dies at 57, and a newspaper blowing through the cemetery includes the headline “The Merchant of Death has Died”. Alfred says that if anyone is a merchant of death, it’s him, so he works with some friends to lay the ground work for the Nobel Prize to try to promote the peaceful advancement of science and the arts. He passed away peacefully in his home in Italy in 1896, and the first Nobel Prize was announced 5 years later in 1901.

The textbook section goes into some detail of Immanuel’s bad luck in investments and the family’s early state of poverty. As a child, Alfred wanted to be a writer, but was pushed into studying chemistry by his father. Growing up studying with his brothers, Alfred became fluent in 5 languages, and as a young man traveled to Europe and the U.S. to meet with and interview various elite chemists. The rest of this section is the same as described above. However, there is a mention of his attempts to get married, which all failed for various reasons. One sidebar hints that he decided to include a Peace Prize after his time spent with Bertha von Suttner. AKA – Sophie, Suttner worked briefly for Nobel as a private secretary and maid, before marrying Arthur von Suttner, an engineer and novelist. Alfred and Bertha remained in contact, and she established herself as a pacifist, writer and editor. She was the first woman to win the Peace Prize, in 1905.  The last 2 pages describe the Nobel Prize process.

The TCG cards are: Helen Keller, Trotsky, Albert Einstein, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Lu Xun, Anna Pavlova, Coco Chanel, Benito Mussolini and Franklin Roosevelt.

This isn’t one of the stronger entries in the 50 Famous People series, but interestingly there is some info on how to make black powder. Recommended if you want to learn a little more about Alfred Nobel.

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