A Century of Hazardous Cargoes

S1506-54 - ICI funnelS1506-54 - ICI flagAlfred Bernhard Nobel (1833-1896) was a Swedish inventor of dynamite, gelignite and other high explosives, from which he made a fortune, and he later bequeathed a fund in his will for annual prizes to those who had contributed most to mankind in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and peace. These prizes were begun in 1901 and a prize for economics was added in 1968, and they are awarded annually on 10th December, the anniversary of his death. He also cleverly invented smokeless gunpowder and the detonator with which to control the blasts. As a young man in Sweden, he worked in the research laboratory of his father near Stockholm. After his younger brother died when some liquid explosive nitroglycerine blew up, he tried to make the substance less sensitive to exploding. In 1866 he added the porous mineral clay kieselguhr to make the explosive solid, and thus much more easily handled.

Nobel called his new product ‘dynamite’ after the Greek word ‘dynamis’ meaning powerful. He then added gun cotton or nitrocellulose to nitroglycerine to produce gelignite, which was much safer and more powerful than dynamite. Dynamite and gelignite helped enormously to progress engineering blasting projects, which had previously used gunpowder or the very explosive when handled nitroglycerine. The construction of the Suez Canal in 1869 would not have been possible without Nobel’s dynamite and gelignite. Nobel founded a British subsidiary in 1871, the British Dynamite Company, renamed Nobel’s Explosives Company (NEC) in 1877. The problem was that there were stringent British Government regulations concerning the transport of high explosives, and a remote site far away from populated areas was sought for a new explosives factory.

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