Nobel, Immanuel

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b. 1801 Gävle, Sweden
d. 3 September 1872 Stockholm, Sweden
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Swedish inventor and industrialist, particularly noted for his work on mines and explosives.
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The son of a barber-surgeon who deserted his family to serve in the Swedish army, Nobel showed little interest in academic pursuits as a child and was sent to sea at the age of 16, but jumped ship in Egypt and was eventually employed as an architect by the pasha. Returning to Sweden, he won a scholarship to the Stockholm School of Architecture, where he studied from 1821 to 1825 and was awarded a number of prizes. His interest then leaned towards mechanical matters and he transferred to the Stockholm School of Engineering. Designs for linen-finishing machines won him a prize there, and he also patented a means of transforming rotary into reciprocating movement. He then entered the real-estate business and was successful until a fire in 1833 destroyed his house and everything he owned. By this time he had married and had two sons, with a third, Alfred (of Nobel Prize fame; see Alfred Nobel), on the way. Moving to more modest quarters on the outskirts of Stockholm, Immanuel resumed his inventions, concentrating largely on India rubber, which he applied to surgical instruments and military equipment, including a rubber knapsack.
It was talk of plans to construct a canal at Suez that first excited his interest in explosives. He saw them as a means of making mining more efficient and began to experiment in his backyard. However, this made him unpopular with his neighbours, and the city authorities ordered him to cease his investigations. By this time he was deeply in debt and in 1837 moved to Finland, leaving his family in Stockholm. He hoped to interest the Russians in land and sea mines and, after some four years, succeeded in obtaining financial backing from the Ministry of War, enabling him to set up a foundry and arms factory in St Petersburg and to bring his family over. By 1850 he was clear of debt in Sweden and had begun to acquire a high reputation as an inventor and industrialist. His invention of the horned contact mine was to be the basic pattern of the sea mine for almost the next 100 years, but he also created and manufactured a central-heating system based on hot-water pipes. His three sons, Ludwig, Robert and Alfred, had now joined him in his business, but even so the outbreak of war with Britain and France in the Crimea placed severe pressures on him. The Russians looked to him to convert their navy from sail to steam, even though he had no experience in naval propulsion, but the aftermath of the Crimean War brought financial ruin once more to Immanuel. Amongst the reforms brought in by Tsar Alexander II was a reliance on imports to equip the armed forces, so all domestic arms contracts were abruptly cancelled, including those being undertaken by Nobel. Unable to raise money from the banks, Immanuel was forced to declare himself bankrupt and leave Russia for his native Sweden. Nobel then reverted to his study of explosives, particularly of how to adapt the then highly unstable nitroglycerine, which had first been developed by Ascanio Sobrero in 1847, for blasting and mining. Nobel believed that this could be done by mixing it with gunpowder, but could not establish the right proportions. His son Alfred pursued the matter semi-independently and eventually evolved the principle of the primary charge (and through it created the blasting cap), having taken out a patent for a nitroglycerine product in his own name; the eventual result of this was called dynamite. Father and son eventually fell out over Alfred's independent line, but worse was to follow. In September 1864 Immanuel's youngest son, Oscar, then studying chemistry at Uppsala University, was killed in an explosion in Alfred's laboratory: Immanuel suffered a stroke, but this only temporarily incapacitated him, and he continued to put forward new ideas. These included making timber a more flexible material through gluing crossed veneers under pressure and bending waste timber under steam, a concept which eventually came to fruition in the form of plywood.
In 1868 Immanuel and Alfred were jointly awarded the prestigious Letterstedt Prize for their work on explosives, but Alfred never for-gave his father for retaining the medal without offering it to him.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Imperial Gold Medal (Russia) 1853. Swedish Academy of Science Letterstedt Prize (jointly with son Alfred) 1868.
Bibliography
Immanuel Nobel produced a short handwritten account of his early life 1813–37, which is now in the possession of one of his descendants. He also had published three short books during the last decade of his life—Cheap Defence of the Country's Roads (on land mines), Cheap Defence of the Archipelagos (on sea mines), and Proposal for the Country's Defence (1871)—as well as his pamphlet (1870) on making wood a more physically flexible product.
Further Reading
No biographies of Immanuel Nobel exist, but his life is detailed in a number of books on his son Alfred.
CM

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Nobel, Alfred Bernhard — ▪ Swedish inventor born Oct. 21, 1833, Stockholm, Sweden died Dec. 10, 1896, San Remo, Italy       Swedish chemist, engineer, and industrialist, who invented dynamite and other, more powerful explosives and who also founded the Nobel Prizes… …   Universalium

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  • Immanuel Nobel — (1801 1872), Swedish engineer, architect, inventor and industrialist. He was the inventor of the rotary lathe used in plywood manufacturing.He was the father of Robert Nobel, Ludvig Nobel and Alfred Nobel. Another son, Emil Oskar Nobel, died at… …   Wikipedia

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