Ever wondered how the Nobel Peace Prize came to be? Read the interesting history below on how the Swedish chemist, engineer, and inventor Alfred Nobel left in his will his vast wealth to award people in various fields, including one for Peace.
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) as it works in Syria to eradicate their use after a deadly gas attack in the war-torn nation sparked international condemnation. (Read the full Bloomberg article)
Another award I find particularly interesting is the Nobel Prize for Literature. This year’s winner is Alice Monroe, the 82-year old Canadian short story writer. She is the 13th woman to win the Nobel in literature since the awards began in 1901.
When Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896, it was discovered that he had left a will, dated November 27, 1895, according to which most of his vast wealth was to be used for five prizes, including one for peace. The prize for peace was to be awarded to the person who “shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses.” The prize was to be awarded “by a committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Storting.”
Nobel left no explanation as to why the prize for peace was to be awarded by a Norwegian committee while the other four prizes were to be handled by Swedish committees. On this point, therefore, we are dealing only with educated inferences. These are some of the most likely ones: Nobel, who lived most of his life abroad and who wrote his will at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, may have been influenced by the fact that, until 1905, Norway was in union with Sweden. Since the scientific prizes were to be awarded by the most competent, i.e. Swedish, committees at least the remaining prize for peace ought to be awarded by a Norwegian committee. Nobel may have been aware of the strong interest of the Norwegian Storting (Parliament) in the peaceful solution of international disputes in the 1890s. He might have in fact, considered Norway a more peace-oriented and more democratic country than Sweden. Finally, Nobel may have been influenced by his admiration for Norwegian fiction, particularly by the author Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, who was a well-known peace activist in the 1890s. Or it may have been a combination of all these factors.
While there was a great deal of controversy surrounding Nobel’s will in Sweden and that of the role of the designated prize-awarding institutions, certainly including the fact that the rebellious Norwegians were to award the Peace Prize, the Norwegian Storting quickly accepted its role as awarder of the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 26, 1897, a month after it had received formal notification from the executors of the will, the Storting voted to accept the responsibility, more than a year before the designated Swedish bodies took similar action. It was to take three years of various legal actions before the first Nobel Prizes could actually be awarded.