Of Dynamite and Peace
If learning about Alfred Nobel brings the famous Nobel Peace Prize to mind, you're on the right track. Throughout Nobel's life, he became weary of the destruction caused by his contributions. Nobel's developments -- including dynamite -- had not only been used for construction purposes, but also as weapons during war. To leave a legacy for amity, Nobel included the creation of the Nobel Peace Prize in his final will. The award would be awarded to a person who promoted peace among nations, within the ranks of military or through the workings of an organization.
Studying explosives isn't for the lighthearted.
Alfred Nobel, a Swedish chemist and engineer, learned this the hard way. In efforts to stabilize nitroglycerin, an explosive liquid, Nobel and laboratory workers experienced several accidents -- one of which ultimately proved fatal. An explosion in Stockholm, Sweden, left Nobel's younger brother and a few others dead in 1864.
No one knew how exactly this accident affected Nobel, but most suspect it further pushed him to find a solution to safely store explosive materials. With this new knowledge of the instability of nitroglycerin, Nobel continually tested methods to detonate and store explosives.
Some say that Nobel discovered the key to stabilizing the substance through another accident.
While transporting nitroglycerin, Nobel noticed that one of the cans accidentally broke open and leaked. He discovered that the material in which the cans were packed -- a sedimentary rock mixture called kieselguhr -- absorbed the liquid perfectly [source: Brunswig]. Since nitroglycerin is most dangerous to handle in its liquid form, the incident led Nobel to explore kieselguhr as a stabilizer for explosives.
Ingeniously, Nobel developed a formula that allowed the explosive to be mixed with kieselguhr without hindering its power. He patented his product in 1867, naming it dynamite, which revolutionized construction practices and the creation of explosives.
Next, we'll look at one of the sweeter accidental inventions history has to offer.