Learn About Dynamite Video

Learn about the stories behind 10 extraordinary inventions. In this video, you'll learn about dynamite.
Read the full transcript »

Male Speaker: Our next inventor is known the world over by the prize that bears his name. His start, however, was anything but glorious. Before achieving international fame, Alfred Nobel was famous for blowing up his own factories. A desire to save his factories, as well as his workers, led Nobel to invent Dynamite. Alfred Nobel was born on October 21st, 1833 to a poor family in Stockholm, Sweden. His family struggled until 1837, when Nobel's father, Immanuel, left to start a new career in Russia. Nobel's mother started a grocery store that meagerly supported the children, all of whom were still in Sweden. In Russia, Immanuel Nobel built simple mines for the Russian navy, submerged barrels filled with gunpowder. Immanuel was so successful that he soon sent for his family. In 1842, 9 year-old Alfred Nobel and his family left Sweden to meet Immanuel in St. Petersburg. Steven K. Burgin: Because of his father's prominence in developing these military products, Alfred Nobel was given the best education available at the time of that day and was learned many languages, learned much about science and actually became a chemical engineer like his father. Male Speaker: In his late teens, Alfred set off for Paris to study chemistry. It was here that he met Ascanio Sobrero, the discoverer of nitroglycerine. Steven K. Burgin: Nitration work was being studied in the 1830s on how to nitrate glycerine. They were trying to make nitroglycerine. They started 0:01:31 in 1830s. Asciano Sobrero picked up that work and in 1840s actually invented nitroglycerine. He was the first one to successfully complete that reaction and make nitroglycerine safely who lived to tell about him. Male Speaker: Accidental detonations were a fact of life when working with nitroglycerine. Steven K. Burgin: When they were first making nitroglycerine they dint know that they had to keep it cool and as they were manufacturing if they kept it a bit confined or got too hot it would self detonate or decompose himself detonate, that was one problem. The second problem would be that it was very sensitive to friction, very sensitive to shock so if someone wasn't expecting it to behave that way its not like water if you shock it or drag something across it, create some friction with it, it would detonate. Male Speaker: In 1852, Nobel returned to St. Petersburg to help his father with business. Russia invaded Turkey in 1853 starting the Crimean War. As a result, the Russian Navy had a high demand for the mines that Alfred's father manufactured. The Nobels amassed quite a bit of money during the three-year war. In 1863 the family relocated back to Sweden, finally settling in Heleneborg, just outside Stockholm. Nobel was still interested by what he'd learned from Sobrero in Paris, and later that year he and his family began experimenting with nitroglycerine. During this time Nobel also began experimenting with alternative detonation methods. Prior to 1865, explosives were detonated by a fuse, which was basically a waterproof rope with gunpowder in the middle, which was ignited at one end and eventually burned down to the other end. What Nobel began working on became known as the Initial Ignition Principle. Steven K. Burgin: The initial ignition principle is simply using a small reactive charge to set off a larger charge that is less reactive. It makes a safer application wherever you are initiating an explosive so that it's not so sensitive to shock or friction or detonating prior to putting in this other initiating device and that greatly increases the safety in the explosives world. Male Speaker: Rather than simply igniting the primary explosive, the fuse would ignite a blasting cap, which would in turn detonate the primary explosive. This made demolition safer and more controllable. Nobel's discovery was well on the way to making nitroglycerine a safer substance to work with when disaster struck. Steven K. Burgin: In 1864, there was an explosion at a dynamite laboratory where A

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement