The Conflicting Legacy of Alfred Nobel: Dynamite and the Peace Prize

The Conflicting Legacy of Alfred Nobel: Dynamite and the Peace Prize
Lucretia Garfield: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to two weeks


In 1867, while James A. Garfield was serving in Congress and Lucretia and the children were living with him in Washington, Swedish chemist and inventor Alfred Nobel patented the first stable explosive since gun power, calling it dynamite.  Used mainly in construction work, dynamite has also been used in warfare. Nobel, hoping to counter the humanly destructive uses of his invention, left the bulk of his fortune to establish five annual prizes to be awarded to people making outstanding contributions to the world in literature, chemistry, physical science, medical science or physiology, and finally, peace.


Students who participate in this activity will learn something about dynamite, but, more importantly, will learn about the Nobel Peace Prize and some of its recipients.  Students will study the lives of selected Peace Prize recipients and create a classroom Peace Hall of Fame.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials on Alfred Nobel, if available; art supplies.


Introduce the lesson by telling students that they will be creating a classroom Peace Hall of Fame, consisting of a set of posters depicting recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.  To begin, ask students if they have ever heard of the Peace Prize, or if they know anyone who has received it.
Using the first three websites listed below, divide the class into four groups.  Assign each group one of the following research topics: 
  • A short biography of Alfred Nobel
  • A short history of dynamite
  • Nobel’s contributions to science generally
  • Nobel’s ideas on war and peace

When the research has been completed, allow time for each group to present its findings—students may select the manner of presentation or the teacher may stipulate a written report, a PowerPoint presentation, or an oral report.
Then, divide the class into groups of two.  Using the website on Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (below), each group should select one Nobel Peace Prize laureate (make sure that there are representatives from each of the eleven decades since the first prizes in 1901).  Each dyad should create a poster depicting the life and work of the laureate it has chosen, highlighting the reason for his or her Peace Prize. 
When the posters are complete, have students hang them in the room and invite other classes in the school to visit the Peace Hall of Fame.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by having students investigate other Nobel recipients—in literature or the sciences—and create Halls of Fame for those individuals.

Sources & Resources:

Bankston, John.  Alfred Nobel and the Story of the Nobel Prize. Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2004.
Skagegard, Lars-Ake.  The Remarkable Story of Alfred Nobel and the Nobel Prize, 2nd ed. Uppsala Universitet, 2000.
            Alfred Nobel on Wikipedia 

            History of Dynamite 

            Alfred Nobel: His Life and Work 
            Nobel Peace Prize Laureates 

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.