Alfred Nobel was was an engineer, chemist and a prominent inventor born into a family of engineers on October 21, 1833 in Stockholm, Sweden. In the late 19th century, Nobel would purchase the Bofors steel and iron mills, he turned it into a massive armaments manufacturer. He made a fortune during his life, the majority of his wealth came from his 355 inventions. Nobel invented Ballistite, (a smokeless propellant made from two explosives of nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose) which would be used in many smokeless military explosives, most notably the British smokeless powder cordite. Its not near as powerful as his most explosive invention, dynamite.
During his 63 year life, Nobel would write many wills. The last one would be signed the year before he died, at the Swedish-Norwegian club in Paris, on November 27, 1895. Many were surprised when it stated, his fortune will be used for a series of prizes that go to the “greatest benefit on mankind” in chemistry, physics, literature, physiology or medicine, and peace. He would leave behind 94% of his assets, totalling 31 million SEK ($186 million US in 2008), to establish the five Nobel Prizes. Lots of skepticism about the will, would cause it not to be approved until April 26, 1897. Rudolf Lilljequist and Ragnar Sohlman, the executors to the will, formed the Nobel Foundation.
Shortly after the guidelines were in place, the nominees would start to pour in. The first prize was awarded in 1901 to the founder of The International Red Cross Committee, Henry Dunant. Henry would go on to win it the most out of anyone, three times he was awarded the peace prize. Some of the most recognizable faces that have won over the years are; Albert Einstein for physics, for discovering the “photoelectric effect,” Marie Curie & Co., she was the first person to win two, and one of only two people to win in two different fields, one for physics for the discovery of radioactivity, and one for chemistry for discovering the elements, radium and polonium. Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins for physiology or medicine, for their discovery of the shape of the DNA molecule, the double helix. Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1979, over 45 years she led 610 charity missions in 123 countries, helping the poor, sick and dying.
This top 10 list isn’t about the ones who were among the winners, but who lots would argue should have won this prestigious prize.
10. John N. Bahcall (December 30, 1934 – August 17, 2005)
In 2002, Bahcall was left out for the Nobel prize for physics, for his research conducted on solar neutrinos. Instead, it was awarded to chemist Raymond Davis Jr., and Masatoshi Koshiba for observing the neutrinos that Bahcall had predicted with his solar model. This former astrophysicist laid the ground work for figuring out the solar neutrino conundrum, he also developed the Hubble Space Telescope, as well as the development and leadership of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.
Neutrinos are tricky particles to study; they rarely interact with other particles, and they pass through the entire planet as if there was nothing but empty space.
9. Thich Nhat Hanh (October 11, 1926 – Present)
A teacher, author, poet, peace activist, and one of the most well known and respected Zen Buddhist monks. Born in the city of Quang Ngai in Central Vietnam. Currently lives in the Plum Village Monastery of the Dordogne region, located in the southern part of France. Hanh has published over 100 books, including more than 40 in English. In one book titled, Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, he would coin the phrase Engaged Buddism.
He would return to Vietnam in 1963, to help aid his fellow monks in their non-violent peace efforts. By 1967, after his return to the US a year earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace prize; stating “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam.” Unfortunately, that year there was no prizes given out. Last year Hanh had a strong following that tried to get him nominated once again, but failed.
8. Oswald Avery (October 21, 1877 – February 20, 1955)
This born Canadian, from Halifax, Nova Scotia became a very well known physician and medical researcher. Spending the better part of his career at the Rockefeller University Hospital in New York City. He was a pioneer of molecular biology and immunochemistry, but he is mostly well known for the experiment that isolated DNA as the substance of which chromosomes and genes are made of. That finding proved that genes were in fact not made of proteins at all. The Nobel laureate Arne Tiselius would say that Avery was the most deserving scientist to never receive the Nobel Prize for his work, he was nominated multiple times throughout the 1930s, 40’s and 50’s.
7. Lise Meitner (November 7, 1878 – October 27, 1968)
Meitnerium, Element 109 on the periodic table was named in her honor. Although, she never won a Nobel Prize, her colleague Otto Han did. This Austrian, later Swedish gal, was a physicist who worked on nuclear physics and radioactivity. Meitner was part of the team that had discovered nuclear fission, in 1939. Even Einstein himself praised her work, calling her the “German Marie Curie.” She is mentioned often as one of the most glaring examples of women’s scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel Committee.
6. Cesar Chavez (March 31, 1927 – April 23, 1993)
A farmer, a labor leader and civil rights activist, who, along with Dolores Huerta co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (later the United Farm Workers union, UFW.) He is often referred to as “The Latino Martin Luther King.” This Mexican American became the most well known Latino American civil rights activist, and was hugely promoted by the American labor movement. His public-relations approach to unionism and aggressive but nonviolent tactics made this farm workers struggle a moral cause with nationwide support. By the late 1970s, his tactics had forced growers to recognize the UFW as the bargaining agent for 50,000 field workers in California and Florida. He would be nominated, three times for the Nobel Peace prize, but never won. He fought to restrict illegal immigrants from entering the U. S. and taking jobs from legal Mexican citizens. His birthday is a state holiday in California and Florida. In 1994 he was awarded the Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton, one year after his death.
5. Ralph A. Alpher (February 3, 1921 – August 12, 2007)
This two time Nobel nominee was an American cosmologist. Most recognizable for laying the ground work for the Big Bang Theory in 1948. He was nominated in 1978 and 2006 for the Nobel Prize for physics, but didn’t win. He wrote a paper that stated the universe occurred 14 billion years ago with a superhot explosion and later, in 1948, Alpher showed proof. No one would accept these ridiculous ideas until 1964 when two radio astronomers showed Alpher’s theory was correct. These two radio astronomers would win the Nobel Prize and Alpher would be left out.
4. John Lennon (October 9, 1940 – December 8, 1980)
“Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.
Imagine all the people. Living for today…” Strong words sang by one of Lennon’s most recognizable songs, Imagine. Can you imagine this guy winning a Nobel Peace prize? Due to his many public protests, and calls for peace, you can hear it in his voice through many of the songs he sang. This Beatle though, was actually never even nominated, but definitely worth mentioning. Controversial through his political and peace activism, he moved to New York in 1971, where his criticism of the Vietnam War resulted in a very long drawn out attempt by Richard Nixon’s administration to deport this hippie, while some of his songs were adopted as anthems by the anti-war movement and the larger counterculture. His legacy would come to an abrupt end when he was shot and killed in 1980.
3. Eleanor Roosevelt (October 11, 1884 – November 7, 1962)
President Harry S. Truman would call her the “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements. Alongside her husband Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was the longest in-house president lasting four-terms. Unfortunately, her early life would be a depressing struggle, losing both parents and one brother. Roosevelt was a very controversial First Lady for her speaking out, most recognizably for her stance on racial issues. She became the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, write a syndicated newspaper column, as well as speak at a national convention. She even publicly disagreed with some of her husbands policies. Shortly after her husbands death, she helped the US to join and support the United Nations and became one of its first delegates. She served as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and was responsible for the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She was nominated for the Nobel Peace prize but failed to win.
2. Pope John Paul II (May 18, 1920 – April 2, 2005)
One of the longest serving popes in recent history, he is most recognized for his peaceful revolution in Poland, as well as having helped bring down communism in Russia. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize 2003, but would come up short. He was one of the most traveled world leaders in history, visiting 129 countries during his time as pope. As part of his special emphasis on the universal call to holiness, he beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints, that’s more than the combined total of his predecessors during the previous five centuries.
1. Mahatma Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30, 1948)
Probably the most recognizable face in this top ten list, Gandhi, is the well deserved number one. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace prize in 1937, 1938, 1939, 1947, and a few days before being murdered in 1948. Born in Porbandar, India, Gandhi studied law and would come to advocate for the rights of Indians, both at home and in South Africa, he was imprisoned in both places for his opposition of the way the government was running things. Gandhi became a leader of India’s independence movement, organizing boycotts against British institutions in peaceful forms of civil disobedience. He once led a landmark 200 mile march to the sea to collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. As a pioneer of Satyagraha, or resistance through mass non-violent civil disobedience, he became a massive political and spiritual leader in his time. Satyagraha remains one of the most potent philosophies in freedom struggles throughout the world today.
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