October 10, 2011
Alfred Nobel was the inventor of dynamite. Although he was a pacifist, Alfred also manufactured arms for warfare. Nobel loved literature and wrote plays, novels, and poems, but few knew him for these things. Instead, they knew only about how dynamite and implements of war had made Nobel a wealthy man.
Nobel was a bit of a recluse, preferring to work on some new invention rather than spend time in the company of people. In fact, he never married.
A curious thing happened to Alfred in 1888. Ludvig Nobel, Alfred’s brother who was a wealthy oilman, died while visiting in Cannes, France. The Newspapers mistakenly printed that it was the better-known Alfred who had died. The headlines read: “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” Apparently, the headline and accompanying obituary had a huge impact on Alfred.
It appears that this experience caused Alfred to think more seriously about his own life and impending death. He began to wonder about the legacy he would leave behind. How would he be remembered? What impact would he have made on the planet? Would history remember him as “The Merchant of Death,” or could he leave a different legacy?
Since Alfred never married, he had no heirs to whom he might leave his immense fortune. There would be nobody to carry on his name, his goals, or his values. How then, would he leave his mark on society?
Alfred Nobel decided that he would use his vast holdings to make a lasting impact. When he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1896, his family was shocked by the details of his will. Alfred Nobel used the bulk of his fortune to establish the most highly regarded of international awards, the Nobel Prizes. Prizes are awarded for accomplishments in science, mathematics, and literature. Best known of all the awards is the Nobel Peace Prize.
Alfred Nobel left a very different legacy than the one the newspapers printed in his premature obituary. Today, few would remember Nobel as “The Merchant of Death” who invented dynamite and manufactured implements of warfare. Instead, they remember this great man as the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize.
What legacy will you leave? It’s a question worth considering, in terms of both our financial resources and the impact of the life we choose to live during our days on this earth. While you and I may not have the vast resources of Alfred Nobel, we can still leave a legacy that will make a difference.
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