Jakob von Uexküll

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The Man Behind the Other Nobel Prize

The life stories of Jakob von Uexküll and Alfred Nobel are curiously intertwined, even if starkly different. Mr. Nobel was born in 1833, Mr. von Uexküll 111 years later, in 1944. While Mr. Nobel was the inventor of dynamite and an arms manufacturer, Mr. von Uexküll was a professional stamp collector and journalist – the latter profession a key link between the two men and the prizes each established. In 1888, a French newspaper, mistakenly thinking the inventor and industrialist had died, published Alfred Nobel’s obituary, headlining it “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” The obituary read: “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who made his fortune by finding a way to kill the most people as ever before in the shortest time possible, died yesterday.” Actually, Alfred’s brother Ludvig was the one who had died. Mortified upon seeing how he would be remembered posthumously, the (younger and then still alive) Mr. Nobel reconsidered his impact on the world and decided shortly thereafter to establish the now-world-famous set of international awards.