“Merchant of Death Dies”

Just suppose that you are a successful inventor and businessman living in the late 1890’s.  You are a bachelor sitting down in a café for your breakfast.  While you sip your morning beverage you also open the newspaper that you purchased on the corner.  Hastily you skim the front page contents, turn to the inside pages, and out of curiosity, you turn to the obituary section.


The headline in the obituary section reads, “Merchant of Death Dies” and attached to the obituary is his name.  While he was expecting to find the obituary of his brother, Ludwig, instead he saw his own name, Alfred Nobel.

Ludwig, the man whose name was supposed to have been on the obituary, was no merchant of death, but neither was Alfred!  Yes, Alfred did patent the invention of the explosive which he named, dynamite, but he never intended it to be a merchant of death.  To his credit, Nobel invented the product to aid in clearing tunnels, and blasting through mountains for ease of transportation.  In the wrong hands, now his name would be muddied.

Ten years later Alfred met with colleagues to pen his last will and testament.  He never quite got past the shock of seeing his name in print as a “merchant of death.”In his will he left 94% of his earthly assets to be set aside for awards to be given to those who benefited mankind in the past year.  The awards go to five different areas:  physics, chemistry, (his preferred field of study) medicine, literature, and peace.

The first awards were given on December 10, 1901 and are given from Stockholm, Sweden, his home country, each year on December 10.  The principle of his money has never been touched.  Interest on the principle is divided among the five awards.

Nobel is no longer known for his invention of dynamite, or for that matter, little known either for his 355 registered patents.  He is known for his beneficent awards to those who work diligently for the betterment of society worldwide.

What headline will your obituary bear?  What is your legacy among your family, friends, and community?


1 Comment

  1. I wrote this two years ago for delivery at a recognition dinner for volunteers. I dusted it off and used it again this year, so thought some of my readers might also be interested.

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