If you’ve been reading my last couple posts, you know that Nitroglycerin was dangerous as hell. Whether it was blowing open a safe or the simple act of opening the crate Nobel’s Oil was shipped in, your life was at risk. Luckily, Alfred Nobel was more than aware of the dangers associated with this volatile liquid explosive.
In 1864, Nobel’s younger brother, Emil Nobel, was accidently killed in one of their Swedish factories during an explosive mishap. This event is what actually led to the invention of Nobel’s Oil, a combination of gunpowder and nitroglycerin. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t exactly a stable mixture. This spurned Alfred Nobel to experiment with different agents to stabilize the mixture. He tried everything from saw dust to sand with little success. It wasn’t until he decided to add kieselguhr, German for diatomaceous earth (A kind of soft siliceous sedimentary rock), that the first stable form of nitroglycerin was created.
Christened Dynamite from the Greek dunamis meaning power, the substance was easily shaped into long sticks that were safe (mostly) for transport. In addition to the increased safety, the applications of dynamite were wide spread. Construction and railroad companies could now blast through mountains or reshape the earth opening up vast reaches of unexplored territory for exploration.
Despite the utility of dynamite, it was also seen as a weapon. Sometimes used as a rudimentary grenade or even fired from special dynamite cannons during the Spanish-American war, (more on this soon!) Nobel was viewed by many as a “merchant of death”. Understandably shocked that the invention he thought was so useful had earned him this less-than-flattering-nickname, Nobel made a provision in his will for a large trust to be establish upon his death. This would become the basis for the five Nobel Prizes, including one awarded for peace.