Creator of Nobel Peace Prize First Accused of Being ‘Merchant of Death’

It’s true. Alfred Nobel, the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize was once called the ‘Merchant of Death’. 

That doesn’t sound right, huh? 

It’s quite an interesting story that I ran across earlier this week while preparing a talk for my friends at Quad City Christian School. 

Before he was ever the creator of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist and inventor, holding 355 patents. Most widely known, is his invention of dynamite. 

The story goes that Alfred’s brother, Ludvig had died. A few weeks later, while visiting France, Alfred opened up the newspaper and found his OWN obituary printed as a mistake—not his brother Ludvig’s. Intrigued by what might be said regarding his own life, Alfred read:

Le marchand de la mort est mort (“The merchant of death is dead”) and went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”

Alfred was horrified that the way he would be remembered is as a “merchant of death”. He devised a plan to remedy this—Alfred took 94% (at the time, this was a little over 3 million Swedish Kronor!) of his wealth and created a fund that would annually award those who helped create or keep peace-without regard to nationality. 

Alfred is reputed to have said, “If only every person had the chance to change their obituary in the middle of their life!”

As I learned of Alfred’s story, his labeling as the ‘merchant of death’ and his subsequent action to, as he put it, “change his obituary” it got me to thinking about what my obituary might say were it to be printed pre-mortem. 

I think we all believe that when we die, someone will miss us. Hopefully a handful of someones! They’ll place us on a pedestal, they’ll only remember the good, the times we shone, the highlights. 

Honestly though, the reality is that I have my moments. I can be quite annoying at times. Forgetful. Too busy. Too guarded. Too self-focused. I miss my exit too often, not knowing when to stop. The gift that gives me a quick-wit also gives me a swift and sarcastic tongue that bites. I may not have invented dynamite, but I know that I have killed a few people’s spirits throughout my time on this earth. (On the plus side, I have learned how to apologize really well!) 

What might I need to change in order to leave a better legacy? 

If the entirety of my life will be boiled down to one sentence, amongst my friends and colleagues, etched on my tombstone in the cemetery where I’m buried, what would I want that one sentence to be?

I am unable to put together that one sentence at this moment. However, it has got me thinking of what direction I’d like to head. Afterall, Alfred Nobel’s life has taught me that it’s never too late to change your obituary while you’re still living! 

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