Alfred Nobel, uppfinnare och kemist

Alfred Nobel – multi-faced innovator and citizen of the world

Alfred Nobel is without doubt one of Sweden’s best known individuals. He was an inventor, entrepreneur and the creator of the World’s most prestigious prize - the Nobel Prize. He is probably best known as the inventor of dynamite. But behind the great successes hides the individual Alfred Nobel. Here we welcome you to his world.

The year is 1894 and Alfred Nobel has just moved into Björkborn Manor in Karlskoga. He is in full swing riding a penny farthing bicycle at the same time as he tries to keep his balance. For safety’s sake he ensures that he always has a person besides him to catch him if he falls.

The fact that Alfred was a modern man was noticed in both his career and in his private life. The acquired the manor house into the bargain when he purchased the industrial company AB Bofors-Gullspång. He has great plans to modernise the company from the very outset. He wanted Bofors to become the biggest competitor within the steel industry of the pioneering countries Great Britain and Germany.

Alfred’s Björkborn

Alfred began to invest just over two million Kronor to augment the machinery and modernise the company. This was an enormous amount of money at the time. He also purchased a laboratory from Stockholm and a small hydro power plant. Alfred was of course accustomed to running water and electricity, which was not available in the manor house when he moved in. The next step was to decorate the manor house for which he was assisted by his nephew Hjalmar Nobel.

Edith Oldenburg works as a guide at what is now called “Alfred Nobel’s Björkborn”, a museum about Alfred Nobel and his life where a reconstruction of his former home can be seen.  She explains Alfred’s reaction when Hjalmar had completed the decoration.

“Alfred was not very kind to him at the time” He said that it looked like a man had decorated the house and that it lacked a woman’s touch.

But Alfred did not allow himself to be discouraged by the unsuccessful decoration. In order to achieve the home he desired he put his requirements to the Board of Bofors. He asked for a billiard table to entertain his guests and a comfortable bed, despite the fact that he did not sleep more than four hours a night. But most important of all were of course his book shelves.

“Alfred had over 2,000 books when he left, all in their original languages. His library still remains to this day at Björkborn Manor House. We also have a computer where people can search for books via different categories.  It is perfect for students who are researching Nobel at university.   

Edith Oldenburg is an ardent Nobel enthusiast and expert. She paints a picture of Alfred as a multi-faceted man who was years ahead of his time. He also contributed to putting Karlskoga on the map. The industry flourished and people with solid knowledge and experience within the chemical and steel industries flocked to Karlskoga after Alfred made his entrance into the small Värmland town.

Alfred loved Värmland and often used to travel around by horse and carriage on the gravel roads of Värmland during his stay at Björkborn Manor House.

“When he moved into the Manor House he had three Russian Orlov Stallions who were referred to as “urluffare”.xxx He did not like the noise that the horse carriage made on the gravel roads and therefore decided to apply a rubber coating to the wheels of the carriage. He then arranged lighting with the aid of an accumulator on the horses and in the carriage. This is remarkable evidence to show just how modern he was for his time.

Broken heart

Alfred Nobel will always be remembered as one of the most successful pioneers and inventors the World has ever seen. He paved the way for new discoveries within the area of explosives and invented dynamite. Alfred was a citizen of the World who absolutely fluent in five languages, but he was not as successful when it came to love.

The year is 1876 and Alfred Nobel is already World famous. In the small spa town of Baden, just outside of Vienna, he met the young sales assistant Sofie Hess in a florists. He immediately falls in love with here and decides to give her an apartment in Paris. As Sofie was not educated and Alfred often moved in intellectual circles around the Elysée Palace, he asked her to learn conversational French. However, this was not to Sofie’s taste and their love started to peter out. However, Alfred continued to support Sofie financially for the rest of her life.

Bertha Von Suttner (formerly Kinsky) was Alfred’s second great love. In contrast toSofie, she was a well-educated woman who fulfilled all of his requirements. She was musically gifted and spoke several languages. Alfred wrote both drama and poetry and in the drama Nemesis he writes, “In my thoughts you are my love and in my dreams you are my spouse”. They discussed war and peace and had widely-differing views on this. She wanted to bring about peace through conversation and compromises, but Alfred maintained that you needed to have powerful weapons in order to protect yourself against your enemies. They would have been perfect for each other. The only problem was that she married another man.

“Bertha married Arthur von Suttner in secret, against the wishes of Arthur’s parents. They did not like the fact that she was seven years older than their son and not very wealthy. However, she was accepted later in life.

Despite this great setback Alfred had a good relationship with both Bertha and her husband. Bertha subsequently came to Karlskoga to meet with Alfred at Björkborn Manor House. The story ends with Alfred remaining unmarried for his entire life and Bertha von Suttner being the first woman to receive the Noble Peace price in 1905.

Alfred Nobel's last wish

Upon his demise on 10 December 1896 Alfred was a very wealthy man, being worth 33 million Swedish Kronor. His much-appreciated employee Ragnar Solhman and Rudolf Lilljeqvist were given the responsibility for his will.  Alfred wished for 30 million to be invested in a fund where 80 percent of the interest should got to future Nobel prizes and 20 percent would be reinvested.

Implementing Alfred’s demands proved to be more difficult than expected for Ragnar and Rudolf. The Nobel family of course wanted to inherit Alfred’s money and therefore opposed hos wishes. The then king of Sweden, Oscar II, was against the will and wanted the money to only go to Swedish researchers and not foreign researchers. Some people even called Alfred Nobel a traitor. However, despite the strong resistance, the executors of the estate finally succeeded in implementing Alfred’s last wish and since 1901 once a year the gaze of the World has been focused on Sweden when the Nobel Prizes are awarded.

A controversial Nobel Prize

With classics such as The Saga of Gösta Berling (Gösta Berlings Saga) and Nils Holgersson’s Wonderful Journey Through Sweden (underbara resa genom Sverige), Selma Lagerlöf is one of our most loved authors through the ages. She received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1909 and in 1914 she became the first female member of the Swedish Academy). But the path there was not an easy one

Selma Lagerlöf was active during a period when women were expected to keep themselves in the private sphere and to attend to the home and the children. A common conception among the male establishment was that women lacked artistic and intellectual capacity, something that was clear due to the fact that women were denied the right to vote until 1921. Selma Lagerlöf’s literary successes were met by great opposition from people who believed that her authorship was improper. One of her staunchest opponents was Carl David af Wirsén, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy and Chairman of the Nobel Committee.

Selma Lagerlöf was nominated for the Nobel Prize for the first time in 1904 but was then lowered by av Wirsén who persuaded the Academy members not to vote for her. The big debate took place in 1908 when he once again conducted an unyielding campaign against her. He was finally defeated in 1909. The Professor of Literature Henrik Schück summarises Wirsén’s defeat with the words: ”Wirsén’s position within the Academy was undeniably tragic. The selection of Selma Lagerlöf was Wirsén’s greatest defeat and this seems to have broken his power”.

Nobel cloths

Sedan 1991 the annual Nobel Banquet has used table linen and napkins from the Klässbol Linen Weaving Mill (Klässbols Linneväveri). The linen is designed by Ingrid Dessau, one of Sweden’s foremost designers and textile artists. The tablecloths are produced using a diaper weave technique using a coarse silver-grey flax yarn of the highest quality. The napkins are weaved in damast using finer semi-bleached flax yarn that displays the Nobel Medal relief.

Alfred’s home

At Alfred Nobel’s Björkborn you can see a reconstruction of his last Swedish home.  You can admire his personal possessions and his fictional book collection with over 1,100 book titles in different languages. In what were formally Alfred’s stables there is now a modern facility with space for conferences, parties, concerts and lectures. The museum offers guided displays year round with regular tours between June and August. The “Smart House” (Fiffiga huset) also attracts both children and adults with fun experiments. If you are hungry there is a cafe next to the museum that serves light lunches and coffee and cakes. Alfred Nobel’s Björkborn is a perfect destination if you want to hear exciting stories about Alfred Nobel in a beautiful cultural environment.

Text: Marcela Elofsson

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