8 Things You Didn’t Know About The Nobel Prizes

A highlight of visiting Stockholm is touring its City Hall, where the Nobel Prizes are awarded every year.

Receiving a Nobel Prize is one of the most illustrious honors in the world. These prizes are annually awarded to the people who contributed the most human benefit to one of five categories: physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. The first Nobel Prize was presented in 1901, but there is still a lot people don’t know about the prizes and their history. Here are eight facts about the Nobel Prizes that you probably didn’t know.

1. Foundation inspired by a mistake

Alfred Nobel
Alfred Nobel. Wikipedia

Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize Foundation, was a Swedish chemist born in Stockholm in 1833. He was an intelligent and successful man who got a wakeup call about his legacy when a French newspaper mistakenly published his obituary instead of his brother’s and criticized him for inventing military explosives. After that, he changed his will to leave the majority of his fortune to the establishment of the 5 Nobel Prizes to recognize others for the good they bring to the world.

2. Presented in two countries

Oslo City Hall
Oslo City Hall. Wikimedia Commons

The Nobel prizes for physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, and literature are all awarded in Stockholm, while the Nobel Peace Prize is presented in Oslo, Norway. This is because Norway and Sweden were still under one monarch when Alfred Nobel was alive, and he wanted to include the other part of the kingdom in the foundation.

3. Ancient Greek traditions

Laurel Wreath
Laurel Wreath. Wikimedia Commons

Those who are awarded a Nobel Prize are referred to as Nobel Laureates because laurel wreaths were given to people as a sign of honor in Ancient Greece. Although there are no actual wreaths given out, the foundation continues the ancient tradition with the laureate name.

4. Arrested laureates

Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi. Wikipedia

In Nobel Prize history, 3 laureates have been under arrest at the time of the award: German journalist Carl von Ossietzky, Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi, and Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo. All 3 were arrested on accounts of political dissent under fascist regimes. While Aung San Suu Kyi was detained and placed under house arrest for approximately 15 years over a 21-year period, Ossietsky and Liu both ended up passing away while in custody.

5. Hitler was nominated

Adolf Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1939 by a member of the Swedish Parliament as a satirical joke. According to the man who nominated him, E.G.C. Brandt, the nomination was not meant to be taken seriously. Brandt was notably antifascist and made the nomination as criticism of the political climate in Sweden at the time. He was unhappy with the nomination of Neville Chamberlin, the then British Prime Minister, for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, Brandt’s idea of satire was ruled highly inappropriate and the nomination was withdrawn shortly after.

6. Specially made diplomas

Nobel Diploma
Nobel Diploma. Photo by nobelprize_org on Instagram

Every Nobel diploma is unique, created by top Swedish and Norwegian artists and calligraphers. Special gold monograms are designed for each of the laureates individually, and the diplomas are written in Swedish or Norwegian depending on where they are awarded. The artwork in the literature diploma is made differently for each laureate, specifically relating to their work, while the artwork in the physics and chemistry diplomas are based on annual themes.

7. Delays in awarding

Stockholm City Hall
Stockholm City Hall. UNSPLASH Ola Grönlund

The average time between when a scientist makes a Nobel-worthy discovery and when they receive the award is anywhere from 20 to 30 years, depending on the award category. This is because it is not always clear that their discovery will be significant right away. The research and review process the committee goes through can take a long time, but it ensures that awards are presented accordingly.

8. No spontaneous speeches

2020 Nobel Laureates
2020 Nobel Laureates. hoto by nobelprize_org on Instagram

Nobel Laureates must submit the speech they will be giving during the awards ceremony banquet to the foundation more than 24 hours in advance so it can be translated into Swedish. This means that they cannot give spontaneous speeches or makes changes to their speech after turning it in.

Meghan St. Pierre

Content Editor Associate

Meghan is a native of South Florida who loves nature and landscape photography. Her favorite travel activities are getting lost in new cities and trying local desserts. She has been to 22 countries, and her favorites have been Sweden and Denmark so far.

Jetset Times in your inbox

Sign-up for our newsletter

By signing up, you agree to our Privacy Policy and European users agree to the data transfer policy.