Alfred Nobel's fortune

When the Swedish businessman and inventor Alfred Nobel passed away in 1895, he left behind what was then one of the world’s largest private fortunes.

In his will, Alfred Nobel determined that his assets should be invested in a fund consisting of safe securities. That meant that Nobel's worldwide interests in industrial enterprises would have to be liquidated. This demanding task was carried out by Nobel's young assistant Ragnar Sohlman and the engineer Rudolf Lilljequist. They soon joined forces with the young Swedish lawyer and peace activist Carl Lindhagen.

Most of the assets proved to be linked to Nobel's holdings in the Russian oil company Baku Petroleum and a hundred or so ammunition and dynamite factories in Europe, North and South America, Australia and South Africa. Nobel also had substantial shareholdings in various mining companies, including gold mines, as well as revenues from his 355 international patents. In addition he owned a yacht - the first in the world with an aluminium keel - a stud farm for riding horses, and three valuable properties: the villa Mio Nido in San Remo, an apartment in Paris, and the villa Björkborn in Karlskoga (where he never took up residence).

A particular problem was that the bulk of Nobel's securities and cash reserves were deposited in French banks in Paris, which could make it difficult for the estate to gain control of the assets without becoming subject to French inheritance tax. Sohlman solved the problem by single-handedly and in complete secrecy taking the securities out of the country - reputedly with a loaded pistol in his coat pocket just in case. The securities were then sold in London and Stockholm.

The fund acquired a total of SEK 31.5 million - a considerable amount given the value of the krone at the time. The money was then invested in so-called "gilt-edged bonds". The annual yield was to be spent on financing the five Nobel Prizes and the administration of the prize-awarding committees. With effect from 1900, responsibility for managing the assets Nobel had left was transferred to the newly-established Nobel Foundation in Stockholm.

The nominal value of the individual Prizes awarded in 1901 was SEK 150,782 - close to 9 million Swedish crowns at 2016 rates. By the time of the centenary in 2001, the value of the Prize had risen to SEK 10 million, the highest amount ever both nominally and in real terms, but was reduced to SEK 8 million in 2012 as a result of several years decline in the Fund.