Maureen Reed reflects on Alfred Nobel.

Creative Genius

It’s a strikingly beautiful city, Stockholm. Built on islands in the Baltic Sea, it is arced by rainbows and crisscrossed by stone bridges. On these alternately showery and sunny summer days, not a single piece of litter spoils Stockholm’s streets or waterways.

It’s also a richly historic city, birthplace to one of the wealthiest and most famous industrialists of the 19th Century. But Alfred Nobel was not always wealthy or famous. When the family lost its fortune in his youth, Alfred was reduced to selling pencils on the street to make ends meet. Subsequently his pencils sketched the outlines of hundreds of inventions, both mechanical and chemical. Not content to merely invent, he exported his extensive business expertise as well. 

Dynamite. An invention so powerful it might make war obsolete? Hardly. Within a few short years, Alfred oversaw factories in 25 countries. The money rolled in, not just from dynamite, but also from some of the other 300-odd inventions on which he held patents. When he died without heirs in 1896, he left behind a fabulous fortune. But he did not leave behind a clear explanation of why this fortune was bequeathed to prizes.

Prizes? Like many of the inventions that poured from his prolific pen, this final creation was perceived as preposterous, at least by those relatives and benefactors who fancied themselves as worthy of his fortune.

In the past hundred years, others have shared his penchant for the preposterous. Madame Curie ( Linus Pauling ( Martin Luther King (

At one time or another in their lives, these inventors were themselves ridiculed or scorned. Here at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, creators of poisons, patents, and peaceful resistance all share in the legacy and largess of Alfred Nobel.  And people by the thousands every year pay their respect to the creative genius behind the prizes and behind those who receive them.

Dr. Maureen Reed, executive director of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, is in Sweden, Norway and Germany this week as a Delegate with the Minnesota Governor’s Trade Mission to Europe. She shares her reflections.

(Nobel Museum photo credit of The Nobel Museum and Alfred Nobel picture courtesy of

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