History of Nobel Peace Prize


Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896. His will, written one
year earlier, directed that the vast majority of his fortune—
estimated at $9 million—was to be used for the establishment
and award of annual prizes in five categories: literature, medicine
or physiology, chemistry, physics, and for the “person who had
made the greatest contribution to the cause of promoting friend-
ship among nations, disarmament or limitation of armaments, as
well as to the establishment and popularization of the Congresses
of Peace.”*
Ever since, people have marveled at the incongruity between
the man, his career, and the award that was named for him. Alfred
Nobel was a Swede who spent many years living in other nations;
he spent a lot of time in Paris; and he died in Italy. He made his
fortune in his thirties by perfecting the manufacture of explosives,
which he patented in 1867. This was the beginning of dynamite.
How strange that such a man would leave most of his vast fortune
to the establishment of international prizes, and that one of them
would be the Peace Prize.
The first peace prizes were awarded in 1901. Nobel had estab-
lished the selection process, by which a committee of five persons
chosen by the Norwegian Parliament made the choices. They began
a custom of announcing the prizes in October and giving the actual
awards on December 10 of each year, the day of Nobel’s death.
More than 100 persons and organizations total have been
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel’s will provided that the
award could be given to as many as three persons in one year;
there have been numerous occasions on which it was given to two
persons, and one occasion when it went to three. Examination of
the recipient list indicates that the Nobel Prize committees have
indeed fulfilled Nobel’s intention that the prize should not be limited
to one nationalist or ethnic group. But further perusal also shows
that there have not been many women selected for the honor.
Baroness Bertha von Suttner was the first to win, in 1905, but as
of 2005, only 10 other female peacemakers have been recognized
with the award.
Americans have fared well in the Nobel Peace Prize selec-
tion process. President Theodore Roosevelt won the award
for mediating the peace conference that ended the Russo-
Japanese War; President Woodrow Wilson won it for his work
at the peace conference that ended World War I. But there have
been some controversial selections, including that of Dr. Henry
Kissinger, who, as secretary of state, worked toward ending the
U.S. presence in South Vietnam. Kissinger’s critics claimed it was
a farce for this man, who had been behind so much of U.S. policy
that led to the Vietnam War, to receive the Peace Prize.
Two of the biggest events surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize
had to do with Middle Eastern diplomacy. In 1979, Israeli Prime
Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat
shared the prize for their work on the Camp David Accords that
led to peace between their two nations. In 1993, Yitzhak Rabin
and Shimon Peres, both of Israel, shared the Nobel Peace Prize
with Yasir Arafat; the three men had worked long and hard on
the Oslo Accords, which promised peace between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. Sadly, this set of accords did not deliver on
its promise.
Alfred Nobel started the process in 1896, and it has been
continued by presidents, prime ministers, social workers, medical
doctors, and others. Would Nobel have been satisfied? This is dif-
ficult to say, but, as some critics even acknowledge, it is better to
light one candle than to curse the darkness.
Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896. His will, written one
year earlier, directed that the vast majority of his fortune—
estimated at $9 million—was to be used for the establishment
and award of annual prizes in five categories: literature, medicine
or physiology, chemistry, physics, and for the “person who had
made the greatest contribution to the cause of promoting friend-
ship among nations, disarmament or limitation of armaments, as
well as to the establishment and popularization of the Congresses
of Peace.”*
Ever since, people have marveled at the incongruity between
the man, his career, and the award that was named for him. Alfred
Nobel was a Swede who spent many years living in other nations;
he spent a lot of time in Paris; and he died in Italy. He made his
fortune in his thirties by perfecting the manufacture of explosives,
which he patented in 1867. This was the beginning of dynamite.
How strange that such a man would leave most of his vast fortune
to the establishment of international prizes, and that one of them
would be the Peace Prize.
The first peace prizes were awarded in 1901. Nobel had estab-
lished the selection process, by which a committee of five persons
chosen by the Norwegian Parliament made the choices. They began
a custom of announcing the prizes in October and giving the actual
awards on December 10 of each year, the day of Nobel’s death.
More than 100 persons and organizations total have been
awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobel’s will provided that the
award could be given to as many as three persons in one year;
there have been numerous occasions on which it was given to two
persons, and one occasion when it went to three. Examination of
the recipient list indicates that the Nobel Prize committees have
indeed fulfilled Nobel’s intention that the prize should not be limited
to one nationalist or ethnic group. But further perusal also shows
that there have not been many women selected for the honor.
Baroness Bertha von Suttner was the first to win, in 1905, but as
of 2005, only 10 other female peacemakers have been recognized
with the award.
Americans have fared well in the Nobel Peace Prize selec-
tion process. President Theodore Roosevelt won the award
for mediating the peace conference that ended the Russo-
Japanese War; President Woodrow Wilson won it for his work
at the peace conference that ended World War I. But there have
been some controversial selections, including that of Dr. Henry
Kissinger, who, as secretary of state, worked toward ending the
U.S. presence in South Vietnam. Kissinger’s critics claimed it was
a farce for this man, who had been behind so much of U.S. policy
that led to the Vietnam War, to receive the Peace Prize.
Two of the biggest events surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize
had to do with Middle Eastern diplomacy. In 1979, Israeli Prime
Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat
shared the prize for their work on the Camp David Accords that
led to peace between their two nations. In 1993, Yitzhak Rabin
and Shimon Peres, both of Israel, shared the Nobel Peace Prize
with Yasir Arafat; the three men had worked long and hard on
the Oslo Accords, which promised peace between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority. Sadly, this set of accords did not deliver on
its promise.
Alfred Nobel started the process in 1896, and it has been
continued by presidents, prime ministers, social workers, medical
doctors, and others. Would Nobel have been satisfied? This is dif-
ficult to say, but, as some critics even acknowledge, it is better to
light one candle than to curse the darkness.

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