The Nobel Prize and Your Legacy

Alfred Nobel developed explosives for a living. He invented dynamite, among other things, and was a munitions manufacturer. He was a successful man by worldly standards, having invented hundreds of things and becoming quite wealthy because of his innovations — estimates are that he would be worth $250 million in today’s dollars.

Although Nobel was a weapons maker, he wasn’t focused on the harm his inventions would do. He initially called dynamite “Safety Powder,” because it was a safer version of nitroglycerin. While nitroglycerin will explode with any impact, TNT is more stable.

His brother Ludwig died in 1888, and the press made an error. They thought that Alfred had died, and published an article saying, “The Merchant of Death is Dead.”

Alfred had the unusual experience of reading his own obituary. It shocked him. It was clear that he would be remembered primarily for “finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before,” as one French newspaper put it.

Seeing what his legacy would be gave Nobel a new perspective on his life. He decided to change what the future would think of him by establishing the Nobel Prizes. He gave most of his fortune to this effort, rewarding people who make lasting contributions to humankind.

You probably won’t have this experience yourself, but you might still want to think about your legacy. How will you be remembered in the future? Like Nobel, you will be remembered for the things you accomplished during your life. You may also, like Nobel, be remembered for your giving.

A financial planner can help you make donations now or plan your will with giving in mind.