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Essay: Alfred Nobel – Dynamite

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  • Subject area(s): History essays
  • Reading time: 3 minutes
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  • Published: September 26, 2021*
  • File format: Text
  • Words: 953 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)
  • Alfred Nobel - Dynamite
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Alfred Nobel was one of eight children. His father, Immanuel Nobel, was an inventor and engineer. Only four out of the eight children survived past childhood. On his father’s side of the family, Alfred was a descendant of the Swedish scientist Olaus Rudbeck, whose main interest was human anatomy.

Even in his early life, Alfred was surrounded by science. His father taught him basic principles of engineering and explosives, this went on to be his main interests later in life.

Alfred grew up in Stockholm, Sweden, born: 21st October 1833. However, his family moved to Saint Petersburg in 1842 due to his father’s various business failures. Once in the city his father became successful as a manufacturer of tools and explosives. Now wealthy, Alfred’s parents were able to send him to private tutors and he excelled in his studies, specifically chemistry and languages. Fun fact: Alfred Nobel was fluent in English, French, German, Russian and of course Swedish.

In 1850, Alfred moved to Paris to continue his studies. He met Ascanio Sobrero, who invented nitroglycerin 3 years earlier. Alfred was intrigued by the instability of Nitroglycerin and went to America to research further.

After the Crimean War (1853-1856) Alfred’s father had difficulty switching back to domestic production, so he declared the company bankrupt. In 1859, Immanuel ( his father ) handed the company down to his second son, Ludvig Nobel who went on to greatly improve the business. Nobel devoted himself to the obdurate study of explosives, especially the safe manufacture and use of nitroglycerin.

On the 3rd of September 1864, part of a nitroglycerin factory exploded in Heleneborg, Stockholm, killing 5 people including Alfred’s younger brother Emil. However, Alfred continued building factories and developing new technology, unfazed by this.

Finally in 1866 Nobel invented dynamite. A more stable compound of Nitroglycerin and Diatomaceous earth, which is a soft rock mostly made of fossilised algae. He moulded it into cylinder shaped sticks and used blasting caps (which he invented a few years earlier) to allow for the safe ignition of such a powerful explosive.

He lived the rest of his life being showered in awards from multiple universities and had an award named after him, The Nobel Prize. He was very rich and his money ended up being used to fund these yearly prizes that bear his name.

Alfred was a lonely person, he never made a family of his own or got married. He had an interest in literature and often wrote poetry, novels and plays. He once wrote, “Numerous friends are to be found only among dogs.” He referred to himself as a ‘benevolent misanthrope’.

His work was quite controversial, because the development of explosives wasn’t seen as peaceful, which was quite ironic considering his strong will to create a peace prize. However, his belief was that increased destructive power might lead to peace, he wrote “On the day when two armies will be able to annihilate each other in one second, all civilised nations will recoil from war in horror and disband their forces.”

What was the purpose Dynamite was invented for?

Dynamite was invented as a safer form of explosive than nitroglycerin. Its uses were supposed to be to make it easier to blast rock in mines, to make tunnels, or to flatten ground for construction.

What is Nitroglycerin?

Nitroglycerin is a dense, colourless, oily, explosive liquid historically used in mines as the predecessor of dynamite. It is incredibly unstable and so much as shaking a bottle of it can make it explode. It is also has medicinal properties and is used in heart medication, such as that prescribed to Alfred Nobel later in his life (how hilariously ironic).

Has the intended purpose of Dynamite changed?

The purpose of Dynamite hasn’t changed, however it is used more commercially nowadays. Today, dynamite is still widely used in the mining, quarrying, construction and demolition industries. It is also used in movies for special effects.

How did Alfred Nobel actually develop Dynamite?

Alfred Nobel discovered that he could make Nitroglycerin more stable if he mixed it with an absorbing material. This made it into a paste that could be shaped.

Alfred formed the dynamite paste into cylinder-shaped sticks. This made it possible for it to be placed in holes drilled in rock. Nobel also designed a blasting cap for dynamite that could be ignited by lighting a fuse. Dynamite was much safer to transport than nitroglycerin, and it became widely used as a safer mining explosive.

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How did this invention aid the progress of the industrial revolution?

Dynamite was an extremely helpful in the push forward in mining and construction. It was used in war for a brief period of time, as a weapon. Dynamite also allowed for safer and easier mining of coal, lead and many other metals and minerals, used frequently during the industrial revolution.

What new problems or dangers has Dynamite caused for society?

Dynamite revolutionised explosive weapons during war times, and has lead to hundreds of thousands, if not millions of deaths, indirectly.

Where was Dynamite invented?

Dynamite was invented in Geesthacht, Germany. It was patented in 1867.

Where is Dynamite used today?

Dynamite is used globally today for a range of purposes throughout the construction and mining industries.


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