Without dynamite we wouldn’t be able to blow things up in a spectacular but relatively safe way. And without dynamite, we wouldn’t have the Nobel Prize. Tick, Tick, Tick Boom!
Large explosions are pretty dangerous by nature. But they’re also very useful in industries like quarrying and mining. Before dynamite was invented, explosives such as gunpowder were used, the problem was their tendency to explode when people were least expecting it.
Swedish inventor Alfred Nobel discovered that nitroglycerine, another very dangerous explosive, could be mixed with a special absorbent sand to make it safe enough to use.
He called his invention ‘Nobel’s Safety Powder’ before realizing that ‘dynamite’, from the Greek word for power, sounded a lot more catchy. Nobel went on to invent another explosive, gelignite, which was even more powerful than dynamite.
Dynamite made blowing up quarries a much safer affair, but it could also be used in warfare. In 1888 a French newspaper made a mistake and published an obituary for Alfred Nobel even though he wasn’t dead. The article said ‘the merchant of death is dead’ (except in French) and condemned Nobel for an invention that killed people more efficiently than ever before.
Alfred read the article and changed his will: he used his fortune to set up the Nobel Prizes, which are still awarded every year for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for work in peace.
A dangerous business: The Nobel family owned a factory where, not surprisingly, there were several explosions. The worst of them happened in 1864 when several workers, including Alfred’s brother Emil, were killed.
In the Wild West dynamite was hijacked by criminals and used for bank heists, safe-cracking and train robberies.