History of the Nobel Prize, Told in Pictures

Considered one of the most prestigious accolades, the Nobel Prize honors remarkable accomplishments in the fields of Medicine, Physiology, Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Peace and Economics.  Responsible for the Nobel Prize’s initiation, Alfred Nobel donated his vast fortune to establishing prizes for the most distinguishing academic fields in the 19th century. Unfortunately, bickering and confusion ensued because Nobel did not appoint anyone to execute the instructions in his will. This stalled the Nobel Prize’s initiation for five years after his death in 1896. Finally, in 1901, the Nobel Prize was fully realized which also caused the Nobel Foundation’s inauguration. 

The first recipients of the Nobel Prize were also chosen in 1901: Emil A. von Behring (Physiology or Medicine), Jacobus H. van’t Hoff (Chemistry), William C. Rontgen (Physics), Rene F.A. Sully Prudhomme (Literature), and Jean H. Dunant and Frédéric Passy (Peace). Nobel did not list Economics in his will, but the Sveriges Riksbank added the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1968. Upon acquiring recognition, economists Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch were the first recipients of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1969. Since then, the Nobel Prize commemorates mankind’s progress and encourages academics, historians and scientists to alter the course of history.

The first four laureates are commended for their accomplishments and attained a legendary reputation. The last four are often criticized for their status as Nobel laureates, causing the world to question their eligibility.

1. Theodore Roosevelt

President Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th leader of the United States, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War. As the mediator, Roosevelt invited Russia and Japan to Portsmouth to conduct negotiations, which resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth of 1905.

2. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his peaceful yet powerful campaign against racism.  King incited and led the March on Washington on Aug. 28, 1963, which consisted of 250,000 supporters.  At the Lincoln Memorial, King delivered his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech and demanded an end to racism in the United States.

3. Madame Curie

Marie Sklodowska-Curie, famously known as Madame Curie, has two titles as a Nobel laureate — the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice.  Curie received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 for her discovery and experimentation of radiation. She shared this prize with her husband and associate, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel. In 1911, Curie earned the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering polonium and radium. She investigated radium’s compounds and studied its effects on nature.

4. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the Colombian author and novelist, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982 by weaving fantasy and reality together in his novels and short stories. Marquez’s works not only amazed and fueled the imagination of readers, but captured the trials and tribulations that mankind endures in life. He is also responsible for the popularity of magical realism, a genre that blends magical elements into ordinary or realistic situations.

5. Barack Obama

Some Americans criticize President Barack Obama’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. This was a tremendous shocker and caused the public to question the Nobel Foundation. In 2009, Obama received the prize “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” This occurred nine months after his inauguration as the 44th president of the United States. To this day, many still criticize Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize and assert that the award was given out of popularity rather than substance.

6. Mahatma Gandhi

Although nominated, Mahatma Gandhi did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize. This man struggled for independence from the British Raj and used nonviolence as a primary tactic to accomplish his goal. Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times, yet the Norwegian Nobel Committee did not honor him, one of the most regrettable actions committed by the Nobel Foundation.

7. Henry A. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho

Arguments and criticisms flew left and right when Henry A. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973. Kissinger and Tho received this honor for their contributions to the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. But many asserted that peace did not truly exist in Vietnam. Thus, Tho returned his award and stated he would only accept it once peace was truly restored in Vietnam.

8. Herta Muller

Herta Muller received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009, but drew displeasure from the world of academia because of her anonymity. Literary critics and professors from the United States knew little about Muller’s life or works. Thus, many accused the Swedish Academy of being extremely Eurocentric when choosing laureates for the Nobel Prize for Literature.