On the 10th December 1901, the first Nobel Prizes were awarded in Chemistry, Literature, Peace, Physics, and Physiology or Medicine. The Nobel Prizes continue to be presented on the same date every year, since it marks the anniversary of founder Alfred Nobel’s death.
Alfred Nobel was a Swedish scientist and arms manufacturer who held patents for a number of inventions, of which dynamite and gelignite are probably the best known. These inventions earned him enormous amounts of money, but little respect from the press in particular. When his older brother Ludvig, who was a leading oil producer, died in 1888 a French newspaper erroneously published an obituary for Alfred instead. Featuring the headline “The merchant of death is dead”, the obituary stated that he “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.”
The obituary left Nobel distressed at how he would be remembered, and led to him seeking a way to improve his legacy. As a result, having never married or had any children, he rewrote his will. This stated that 94% of his total assets be used to fund the annual prize in his name. The Nobel Foundation was established in 1900 to manage the finance and administration of the Prizes, while separate Nobel Committees are responsible for collecting nominations and awarding the prizes themselves.
The first Nobel Prizes were awarded for Wilhelm Röntgen’s discovery of X-rays; Jacobus van’t Hoff’s work on chemical thermodynamics; Sully Prudhomme’s poetry and Emil von Behring’s development of a treatment for diphtheria. The 1901 Peace Prize was shared between Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy.