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September 1867: Dynamite patent for Alfred Nobel

Status: 18.09.2017 11:12 a.m. | archive

In the autumn of 1866, the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel experimented with explosives near Geesthacht. He set up his test laboratory on a boat on the Elbe, a safe distance from houses and people. He wants to develop the highly dangerous nitroglycerin further. Since its invention by the Italian Ascanio Sobrero in 1847, this has become indispensable for the then flourishing railway, road and mining industry in Europe and the USA. But the milky blasting oil is difficult to store and transport. It explodes with the slightest vibration or pressure on the metal canisters and wine bottles in which it is usually filled.

Nobel founds explosives factory near Geesthacht

The explosive power of nitroglycerin is enormous and the damage is devastating. A few years earlier, Nobel had blown up his house in attempts in Stockholm, killing his brother Emil and four employees. Because he is no longer allowed to work with nitroglycerin in his hometown, he looks for other locations where he can experiment with the explosives. Among other things, he opens a company in Hamburg and finds a suitable site on the Geesthang near Geesthacht, on which he and German business partners set up an explosives factory with 30,000 marks in share capital. "On the Krümmel", where the nuclear power plant is located today, will initially employ 50 workers. From here it is not far to the port of Hamburg. From there, Nobel has the explosive cargo shipped all over the world.

He himself lives in a house with his own laboratory on the 42 hectare factory site. The production facilities and warehouses with vats and tanks are widely spread across the 42 hectare site. They are surrounded by earth walls to limit damage from possible explosions.

Nobel experiments on the Elbe

Local history: experiments

There have already been many important scientific experiments in Hamburg and the surrounding area - from Alfred Nobel's dynamite experiments to X-ray lasers. Three facts about experiments in Hamburg. 2 min

Accidents involving nitroglycerin were the order of the day: In December 1865, a demijohn containing five kilograms of nitroglycerin exploded in front of a hotel in New York and damaged several buildings. In April 1866, a steamer that had loaded the explosive oil burned off Panama and sank with a crew of 47. A short time later, a warehouse in San Francisco is destroyed, killing 14 people. Dealing with the dangerous substance is also too careless, as a later report reveals: "Half-leaked, defective canisters were soldered shut, drill holes filled with explosive oil were closed with crushed bricks and this filling material was pushed down firmly." When the Geesthacht plant was blown up in May 1866, Nobel resumed attempts to develop a safer explosive.

Alfred Nobel lived in Geesthacht from 1865 to 1873 before settling in Paris as a wealthy man.

It remains unclear whether chance comes to his aid or whether intensive attempts are the reason. In any case, in October 1866 Nobel first combined liquid nitroglycerin with diatomaceous earth, the flour from algae shells, on his Elbe barge off Geesthacht. It is the hour of birth of dynamite, that elastic, explosive substance that does not react so easily to vibrations and is much easier to transport.

Nobel has his invention patented in various countries, for example in Sweden on September 19, 1867.

Dynamite makes Nobel a fortune

"Nobels Safety Powder", as it is initially called, is versatile in use. Nobel fills it in cardboard tubes and puts a detonator on them.

The dynamite makes Geesthacht boom. There are special settlements for the workers. Many houses are still well preserved today.

Dynamite can also be kneaded and so it can be fitted particularly well into blast holes. Sales are increasing. Hundreds of workers will soon be hired in Geesthacht who live in the company's own settlements. Schools and roads are being built, the place is connected to the railway network. A powder factory is located nearby. The small farming village on the Elbe is developing into a modern industrial location; by the First World War, the population quintupled to more than 5,000 inhabitants.

Dynamite: useful, but also a deadly weapon

Nobel's explosives are used in the construction of the Gotthard tunnel through the Alps as well as in the construction of the Panama Canal.

Since the raw materials for dynamite production are extremely explosive, the factories are surrounded by earth walls, as here in Italy around 1888, and have loose roofs.

He earned an enormous fortune, 31 million crowns in the Franco-German War of 1870/71, in which his company supplied both sides. Nobel soon owns 355 patents and 90 factories in 20 countries. He also enters the petroleum industry with the largest oil refinery in Russia, and has pipelines and oil tankers built.

But not only industry and the military use the dangerous dynamite, assassins also value it as a deadly weapon. Terrorists blow up the Russian Tsar Alexander during a carriage ride in St. Petersburg. Kaiser Wilhelm I barely escapes a dynamite explosion. In 1892 alone, more than 1,000 dynamite attacks were carried out in Europe.

Nobel becomes a pacifist

Nobel is shaken by it. He actually wants to make the world safer, advocated the principle of deterrence to peace activist Bertha von Suttner in the same year: "On the day when two armies will be able to destroy each other in a matter of seconds, all will probably be civilized Nations shy away from war and send their troops home. "

Incognito, Nobel now takes part in peace congresses, donates money to pacifist organizations and, in 1895, a year before his death, decreed that a foundation should be established with the largest part of his fortune, which awards prizes from the interest to people who have "passed away." Year of the greatest benefit to mankind ".

Since 1901, each year on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death in Stockholm, the prizes for chemistry, physics, medicine and literature have been awarded, and in Oslo the Nobel Peace Prize for the one “who has worked most or best for the fraternization of peoples, for abolition” or reduction of the standing armies as well as for the formation and spread of peace congresses. "

From dynamite to nuclear power plant

Nobel's plant in Geesthacht, however, developed into the largest explosives factory in Europe by 1910. During the Second World War it is extremely expanded, thousands of slave laborers are deployed there in three shifts. The factory was bombed on April 7, 1945 and dismantled by the British after the war. Today the now decommissioned Krümmel nuclear power plant is located on the site. Traces of the former dynamite factory are still preserved, such as the administration building. The Förderkreis Industriemuseum Geesthacht offers regular tours.

Inquiry and Self-Doubt: The Biography of Nobel

1833: Alfred Bernhard Nobel was born on October 21st to a family of manufacturers in Stockholm.
1842: The father brings the family to St. Petersburg. Alfred receives private tuition with a focus on chemistry and is also doing an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer.
1850: He embarks on a two-year study trip that takes him to Paris, Italy, Germany and the USA, among other places. He is intensively involved in research in chemistry.
1852: He travels to St. Petersburg to work in his father's factory.
1859: Alfred Nobel returns to Stockholm. There he develops explosives. He wants to improve safety when handling nitroglycerin.
1863: He discovers the method of "initial ignition", with which the exact time of the blast can be determined.
1864: His brother Emil and four employees are killed in an explosion in the Stockholm family factory.
1865: Nobel expands its factory network. A factory for the mass production of nitroglycerin is being built in Krümmel in Schleswig-Holstein.
1866: He mixes nitroglycerin with diatomaceous earth in a ratio of 3: 1. He has the new, stable substance patented under the name "Dynamite". The dynamite is very popular, especially as a weapon of war. Nobel becomes a rich man.
1876: In Paris he meets the Austrian writer Bertha von Suttner and gets to know her pacifist ideas.
1889: Bertha von Suttner's "Put your arms down!" will be published. Nobel increasingly doubts his life's work as an explosives inventor.
1892: He travels incognito to a peace congress in Bern.
1895: In his will, Alfred Nobel decreed that the majority of his assets should be donated to a foundation. Highly endowed prizes for efforts for the well-being of humanity are to be awarded from the interest proceeds.
1896: Nobel dies of a heart attack in San Remo on December 10th. He is buried in Stockholm.

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