2013-12-03 12:56Press release

The Nobel Prize: Milestones from the history of the Nobel Prize


Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) is one of the most famous Stockholmers of all time. The prize that bears his name is known worldwide since it was established with the fortune he left in his will as the first donation. He was born in Stockholm, grew up in Russia, studied chemistry and technology and the US and died in Italy. “Home is where I work and I work everywhere”. Although Alfred Nobel lived all over the world, the spirit of curiosity, creativity and entrepreneurship lives on in Stockholm.

November 27, 1895
Alfred Nobel signs his will in Paris

Nobel decided in his will that a large part of his fortune would go to establish a prize. Five prizes would be established: Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and a Peace Prize, which would be awarded to the person who, “during the preceding year conferred the greatest benefit on mankind”. He also named the institutions that would select the prize winners: Karolinska Institutet, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Swedish Academy and the Norwegian parliament, Stortinget.

December 10, 1896
Alfred Nobel dies in his home in San Remo, Italy

Nobel’s will caused quite a bit of controversy when it was opened. His family opposed the prize. Some people were critical because the large amount of money would not fully benefit Swedish research. The institutions that Nobel chose to select the prize winners were not consulted and accepted the responsibility only after considerable hesitation. They feared that the responsibility would occupy too much of the academy’s time and resources. It took five years until the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in December 1901.

June 29, 1900
Nobel Foundation founded

The Nobel Foundation was founded as a private organization to manage the finances and administration of the Nobel Prize.

December 10, 1901
Nobel Prizes are awarded for the first time

The first Nobel Prize was awarded on December 10, 1901.The amount of the prize was enormous for that time: SEK 150,000 for each Laureate. The Nobel Prize amount for 2013 is set at Swedish kronor 8.0 million per Nobel Prize. At the Nobel Prize Award Ceremonies on 10 December the Nobel Laureates receive three things: a Nobel Diploma, a Nobel Medal and a document confirming the Nobel Prize amount. The diploma is a unique work of art. The Nobel Medals are handmade in 18 carat green gold plated with 24 carat gold.

1914-1918 and 1939-1945
No Peace Prize during World War I and II

During World War I (1914-18), the Peace Prize was only awarded in 1917 to the International Red Cross for its efforts during the war. During World War II (1939-45), no Peace Prize was awarded from 1939 to 1943 and no prizes were awarded at all between 1942 and 1943 because of the Norwegian occupation. In 1944 the International Red Cross once again received the prize for its efforts during the war.

The Quantum physics debacle

In 1921, the theory of relativity was still seen as controversial and the Royal Swedish Academy of Science were reluctant to award it and Albert Einstein with a Nobel Prize. Instead, they withheld the Prize until one year later, and then awarded Einstein for his work on the photoelectric effect. Niels Bohr received the 1922 Physics Prize.

Quantum physics had its breakthrough with Bohr and the Physics Prize was awarded at the same time to Einstein, who by this time had gone from being a pioneer in this field to being one of the harshest critics of quantum mechanics.

The Nobel Prize is secured by investing in safe securities

According to Nobel’s will, the money would be invested in “safe securities” such as government bonds. The return on these investments deteriorated and the prize dropped in value. Over time, the government eased up on the rules and since 1953 the Foundation has largely been allowed to invest to achieve maximum profit.

December 10, 1969
Swedish central bank awards the first Prize in Economic Sciences

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel, which is often called “the Nobel Prize in Economics,” was established in 1968 by Swedish central bank Sveriges Riksbank through a donation on the occasion of the bank’s 300th anniversary. The prize was awarded for the first time in 1969 and the prize money, which is the same as for the Nobel Prize, is presented along with the Nobel Prizes awarded in Stockholm. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences selects the prize winner.


Nobel Prize splendor

The Nobel Prize developed a strong reputation right from the start because of the large prize sum awarded and the opportunities for foreign laureates. By initially selecting already famous and respected scientists, interest in the prize rose worldwide. The well-oiled machinery surrounding the nominations and the announcement of the prize, the Nobel Lectures and the lavish gala attended by Swedish royalty all provide a splendor unsurpassed worldwide by any other scientific context.

Learn more about the Laureates at the official Nobel Prize website and the Nobel Museum

For more information

For more information contact

Ann-Charlotte Jönsson, PR Manager, Stockholm Business Region, tel: +46(0)8-50828507, ann-charlotte.jonsson@stockholm.se

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Caroline Strand
Caroline Strand
Birgitta Palmér
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