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The Nobel Foundation: A Century of Growth and Change

by Birgitta Lemmel*

On June 29, 2000, the Nobel Foundation celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Foundation and especially the Nobel Prizes - which were first awarded in 1901 - are closely linked to the history of modern science, the arts, and political development throughout the 20th century.

Background and Establishment of the Nobel Foundation

Alfred Nobel died on December 10, 1896. The provisions of his will and their unusual purpose, as well as their partly incomplete form, attracted great attention and soon led to skepticism and criticism, also aimed at the testator due to his international spirit. Only after several years of negotiations and often rather bitter conflicts, and after various obstacles had been circumvented or overcome, could the fundamental concepts presented in the will assume solid form with the establishment of the Nobel Foundation. On April 26, 1897, the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) approved the will and soon afterwards elected members to the prize-awarding Norwegian Nobel Committee of the Storting. In 1898 the other prize-awarding bodies followed suit, approving the will after mediation: Karolinska Institutet on June 7, the Swedish Academy on June 9 and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences on June 11.

Alfred Nobel and his will
The testator and his will. The superimposed photo of Alfred Nobel was taken in 1896, the year he died.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

The will was now settled. The task of achieving unity among all the affected parties on how to put its provisions into practice remained. The final version of the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation contained clarifications of the wording of the will and a provision that prizes not considered possible to award could be allocated to funds that would otherwise promote the intentions of the testator. The Statutes provided for the establishment of Nobel Committees to perform prize adjudication work and Nobel Institutes to support this work, as well as the appointment of a Board of Directors in charge of the Foundation's financial and administrative management.

On June 29, 1900, the Statutes of the newly created legatee, the Nobel Foundation, and special regulations for the Swedish Prize-Awarding Institutions were promulgated by the King in Council (Oscar II). The same year as the political union between Sweden and Norway was dissolved in 1905, special regulations were adopted on April 10, 1905, by the Nobel Committee of the Storting (known since January 1, 1977 as the Norwegian Nobel Committee), the awarder of the Nobel Peace Prize.

statutes of the Nobel Foundation
A century old. The cover of the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation when it was promulgated on June 29, 1900.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Premises

To create a worthy framework around the prizes, the Board decided at an early stage that it would erect its own building in Stockholm, which would include a hall for the Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet as well as its own administrative offices. Ferdinand Boberg was selected as the architect. He presented an ambitious proposal for a Nobel Palace, which generated extensive publicity but also led to doubts and questions. World War I broke out before any decision could be made. The proposal was "put on ice" and by the time the matter was revived after the war, Ivar Tengbom was busily designing what later became the Stockholm Concert Hall. Meanwhile the Stockholm City Hall was being built under the supervision of Ragnar Östberg. Boberg, Tengbom, and Östberg were probably the most respected architects in Sweden at that time. Because it would have access to both these buildings for its events, the Nobel Foundation now only needed space for its administrative offices. On December 19, 1918, a building at Sturegatan 14 was bought for this purpose. After years of renovation there, the Foundation finally left its cramped premises at Norrlandsgatan 6 in 1926 and moved to Sturegatan 14, where the Foundation has been housed ever since.

Objectives of the Foundation

The Nobel Foundation is a private institution. It is entrusted with protecting the common interests of the Prize Awarding Institutions named in the will, as well as representing the Nobel institutions externally. This includes informational activities as well as arrangements related to the presentation of the Nobel Prizes. The Foundation is not, however, involved in the selection process and the final choice of the Laureates (as Nobel Prize winners are also called). In this work, the Prize-Awarding Institutions are not only entirely independent of all government agencies and organizations, but also of the Nobel Foundation. Their autonomy is of crucial importance to the objectivity and quality of their prize decisions. One vital task of the Foundation is to manage its assets in such a way as to safeguard the financial base of the prizes themselves and of the prize selection process.

Nobel Prize Awarding institutions

Statutes and Significant Amendments during 100 Years

The Statutes, as most recently revised in 2000, assign roles to the following bodies or individuals in the Nobel Foundation's activities:

  • The Board and the Executive Director (especially paragraphs 13 and 14)
  • The Prize-Awarding Institutions (especially paragraphs 1 and 2)
  • The Trustees of the Prize-Awarding Institutions (especially paragraph 18)
  • The Nobel Committees and experts (especially paragraph 6)
  • Bodies and individuals entitled to submit prize nominations (especially paragraph 7)
  • Auditors (especially paragraph 19)

Over the past 100 years, there have been a number of changes in the relationship between the Foundation's Board of Directors and the Swedish State. Their links have gradually been severed.

According to paragraph 14 of the first Statutes from 1901, the Foundation was to be represented by a Board with its seat in Stockholm, consisting of five Swedish men. One of these, the Chairman of the Board, was to be designated by the King in Council. The Trustees of the Prize Awarding Institutions would appoint the others. The Board would choose an Executive Director from among its own members. An alternate (deputy) to the Chairman would be appointed by the King in Council (effective in 1974, by the Government), and two deputies for the other members would be elected by the Trustees. Since 1995 the Trustees have appointed all members and deputies of the Board. The Board chooses a Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Executive Director from among its own members.

The first Board of Directors of the Nobel Foundation was elected by the Trustees on September 27, 1900 (Hans Forsell, Ragnar Törnebladh, Henrik Santesson, and Ragnar Sohlman, with Mauritz Salin and Oscar Montelius as Deputies). On the following day, former Prime Minister Erik Gustaf Boström was appointed Chairman of the Board by the King in Council with the Justice of the Supreme Court C. G. Hernmarck as Deputy. On October 3, 1900 the Board elected Assistant Circuit Judge Henrik Santesson as the first Executive Director of the Foundation. Effective on January 1, 1901 the Board assumed management of the Foundation's assets.

Until 1960 the Chairman was chosen from the small group of "Gentlemen of the Realm" - prime ministers, ministers for foreign affairs and other high officials. In 1960 for the first time, a renowned scientist was chosen: Arne Tiselius, Professor of Biochemistry at Uppsala University and 1948 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. Since then the Chairman has been chosen from among members of the Prize-Awarding Institutions. It has also become a rule that the Deputy Chairman as well as one of the members of the Board elected by the Trustees should be persons with financial expertise. This custom began in 1951, when senior banker and industrialist Jacob Wallenberg was elected to the Board by the Trustees. He was also a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. When his brother Marcus Wallenberg succeeded him in 1968, it was the first time that a member of the Board did not belong to a Prize-Awarding Institution. As to the Deputy Chairman of the Board, appointed by the King in Council, this practice started in 1960, when the prominent banker Gustaf Söderlund was elected to the Board. In most cases, the Executive Director has had a legal and administrative background. As the Foundation's investment policy became more active from the early 1950s onward, financial experience coupled with a knowledge of international relations have been valuable assets for those holding this position.

Arne Tiselius
Arne Tiselius was Chairman of the Board of the Nobel Foundation 1960-1964.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

An important landmark in the history of the Foundation occurred when it added Norwegian representation to the Board. In 1901, the Norwegians refrained from representation on the Board - being appointed by King Oscar at a time when Norway was moving toward a breakup of its union with Sweden was not considered an attractive idea - and they limited their involvement to work as Trustees and auditors. In light of this, it is interesting to note that Henrik Santesson, the first Executive Director of the Foundation, also happened to be the legal counsel of the Storting in Sweden. But in 1986, paragraph 14 of the Statutes was changed and the Board no longer had to consist of five Swedish citizens (the original Statutes had said Swedish men), but of six Swedish or Norwegian citizens. The Statutes were also changed in such a way that remuneration to the Board members and auditors of the Foundation, as well as the salary of the Executive Director, would be determined by the Foundation's Board instead of the Swedish Government.

King Oscar II of Sweden
King Oscar II of Sweden

According to paragraph 17 of the original Statutes, the administration of the Board and the accounts of the Foundation for each calendar year were to be examined by five auditors. Each prize-awarding body would elect one of these before the end of the year and the King would designate one, who would be the chairman of the auditors. In 1955 the number of auditors was enlarged from five to six; the new auditor would be appointed by the Trustees and had to be an authorized public accountant. This was a very important change, in line with the Foundation's more active financial investment policy.

Today the Government's only role in the Nobel Foundation is to appoint one auditor, who is also to be the chairman of the Foundation's auditors.

Among other changes that have occurred in the Statutes are the following:

Until 1968, in principle more than three persons could share a Nobel Prize, but this never occurred in practice. The previous wording of paragraph 4 was: "A prize may be equally divided between two works, each of which may be considered to merit a prize. If a work which is to be rewarded has been produced by two or more persons together, the prize shall be awarded to them jointly." In 1968 this section was changed to read that "In no case may a prize be divided between more than three persons."

In 1974, the Statutes were changed in two respects. The confidential archive material that formed the basis for the evaluation and selection of candidates for the prizes, which was previously closed to all outsiders, could now be made available for purposes of historical research if at least 50 years had elapsed since the decision in question. The other change concerned deceased persons. Previously, a person could be awarded a prize posthumously if he/she had already been nominated (before February 1 of the same year), which was true of Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Literature Prize, 1931) and Dag Hammarskjö;ld (Peace Prize, 1961). Effective from 1974, the prize may only go to a deceased person to whom it was already awarded (usually in October) but who had died before he/she could receive the prize on December 10 (William Vickrey, 1996 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel).

Karlfeldt Hammarskjöld Vickrey
Erik Axel Karlfeldt
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation
Dag Hammarskjöld
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation
William Vickrey
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Financial Management

The main task of the Nobel Foundation is to safeguard the financial base of the Nobel Prizes and of the work connected to the selection of the Nobel Laureates.

In its role as a financial manager, the Nobel Foundation resembles an investment company. The investment policy of the Foundation is naturally of the greatest importance in preserving and increasing its funds, thereby ensuring the size of the Nobel Prizes. The provisions of Alfred Nobel's will instructed his executors to invest his remaining realizable estate, which would constitute the capital of what eventually became the Nobel Foundation, in "safe securities." In the original by-laws of the Board, approved by the King in Council on February 15, 1901, the expression "safe securities" was interpreted in the spirit of that time as referring mainly to bonds or loans - Swedish as well as foreign - paying fixed interest and backed by solid underlying security (central or local government, property mortgages or the like). In those days, many bonds were sold with a so-called gold clause, stipulating that the holder was entitled to demand payment in gold. The stock market and real estate holdings were beyond the pale. Stocks in particular were regarded as an excessively risky and speculative form of financial investment.

The first 50 years of management came to be characterized by rigidity in terms of financial investments and by an increasingly onerous tax burden. Remarkably, the tax issue had not been addressed when the Nobel Foundation was established. The tax-exempt status that the executors of the will and others had assumed as self-evident was not granted. Until 1914, the tax was not excessively heavy, only 10 percent, but when a "temporary defense tax" supplement was introduced in 1915, the Foundation's tax burden doubled. In 1922, a maximum tax assessment was imposed which exceeded the sum available for the prizes in 1923, the year when the Nobel Prize amount reached its absolute low point. For a long time, the Nobel Foundation was the largest single taxpayer in Stockholm. The question of granting tax-exempt status to the Foundation was debated back and forth in the Riksdag (Swedish Parliament) for years.

In 1946, when the Foundation was finally exempted from national income and wealth tax and local income tax, this allowed a gradual long-term increase in the size of the Foundation's main fund, the Nobel Prizes and the sums paid to the Prize-Awarding Institutions for their adjudication work. Without Swedish tax-exempt status, it would have been impossible for the Foundation to receive equivalent tax relief for its financial investments in the United States. In the event, a U.S. Treasury ruling granted the Foundation tax-exempt status in that country effective from 1953. Tax-exempt status created greater freedom of action, enabling the Foundation to pursue an investment policy not dominated by tax considerations that characterize the actions of many investors.

However, the restrictions on the Foundation's freedom of investments continued with minor changes until 1953, although the gold clause and resulting protection against declining value had disappeared as early as World War I. Because of two world wars and the depression of the early 1930s, the prizes shrank in real terms from SEK 150,000 in 1901 (equivalent to 20 times the annual salary of a university professor) to a mere one third of this value.

Then, in 1953, the Government approved a radical liberalization of the investment rules. The Foundation was granted a more extensive freedom to manage its capital independently, as well as the opportunity to invest in stocks and real estate. Freedom of investment, coupled with tax-exemption and the financial expertise of the Board, led to a transformation from passive to active management. This can be regarded as a landmark change in the role of the Foundation's Board. During the 1960s and 1970s, the value of the Nobel Prizes multiplied in Swedish krona terms but rapid inflation meanwhile undermined their real value, leaving each prize largely unchanged. The same was true of the Foundation's capital.

check
Photo of the check received by Prof. J. C. Kendrew, 1962 Nobel Chemistry Laureate. Nowadays, no checks are given. The prize money is transferred by bank according to the Laureate's wishes.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

During the 1980s, the Foundation experienced a change for the better. The stock market performed outstandingly and the Foundation's real estate also climbed in value. A sour note came in 1985, when Swedish real estate taxes rose sharply and profits consequently vanished. In 1987, the Board decided to transfer most of the Foundation's real estate to a separate company called Beväringen, which was then floated on the stock exchange. In the same year that Beväringen was established, the Nobel Foundation surpassed its original value in real terms (SEK 31 million in 1901 money) for the first time. The Foundation was fortunate enough to sell its entire holding in Beväringen before the real estate crash of the early 1990s.

By 1991, the Foundation had restored the Nobel Prizes to their 1901 real value. Today the nominal fund capital of the Nobel Foundation is about SEK 3.1 billion. In 2006 each of the five Nobel Prizes as well as the Economics Prize was worth SEK 10 million (about USD 1.45 million). This is well above the nominal value of the entire original fund, and higher than the real value of the original prizes. Since January 1, 2000, the Nobel Foundation has also been permitted to apply the capital gains from the sale of assets toward the prize amounts. According to Alfred Nobel's will, only direct return - interest and dividends - could be used for the prize amounts. Capital gains from share management could not previously be used. According to the new rules, return that arises from the sale of Foundation assets may also be used for prize award events and overhead, to the extent that they are not needed to maintain a good long-term prize-awarding capacity. This change is necessary to avoid undermining the value of the Nobel Prizes. The Nobel Foundation may also decide how much of its assets may be invested in shares. In the long term, this may mean that the Foundation can now have a higher percentage of its assets invested in shares, leading to higher overall return and thus larger Nobel Prizes.

The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel

On the occasion of its 300th anniversary in 1968, the Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden's central bank) made a large donation to the Nobel Foundation. A Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel has been awarded since 1969. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences is entrusted with the role of Prize Awarding-Institution, in accordance with Nobel Prize rules. The Board of the Nobel Foundation has subsequently decided that it will allow no further new prizes.

Nobel medal Economics medal
The Economics Prize medal's front ... and back.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation  

Nobel Symposia

An important addition to the activities of the Nobel Foundation is its Symposium program, which was initiated in 1965 and has achieved a high international standing. 148 Nobel Symposia, dealing with topics at the frontiers of science and culture and related to the Prize categories, have taken place. In addition to these Nobel Symposia, six Nobel Jubilee Symposia were held in 1991 and six Nobel Centennial Symposia in 2001. Since 1982 the Nobel Symposia have been financed by the Foundation's Symposium Fund, created in 1982 through an initial donation from the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, as well as through grants and royalties received by the Nobel Foundation as part of its informational activities.

Donations and Prizes

Around the world, new international scientific and cultural prizes have been established, directly inspired by the Nobel Prize. For example, the Japan Prize and Kyoto Prize - both financially in a class with the Nobel Prize - were established in 1985 and their statutes directly refer to the Nobel Prizes as a model and source of inspiration. Donations from these and many other sources have reached the Foundation over the years. Some of these donations are presented below.

In 1962 the Balzan Foundation, based in Switzerland and Italy, gave its first prize of one million Swiss francs to the Nobel Foundation for having awarded its Nobel Prizes for 60 years in an exemplary way, thereby celebrating "l'oeuvre admirable accomplie dans 60 années de travail."

In 1972, Georg von Békésy, 1961 Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine, donated his exquisite collection of art objects to the Nobel Foundation - some 150 objects from four continents (not Australia). The collection is now deposited with various museums in Stockholm, mainly the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities but also the Museum of Medieval Stockholm, the Ethnographic Museum and the National Museum.

Békésy collection
Cover of The Georg von Békésy Collection published by the Nobel Foundation in 1974.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Also in 1972 the Foundation received a donation from the Italian marquis Luigi de Beaumont Bonelli, who bequeathed his two wine-growing estates outside Taranto, southern Italy, to the Nobel Foundation. The properties were worth SEK 4.5 million. Their sale made possible the establishment of an annual Beaumont-Bonelli fellowship to a promising young Italian medical researcher.

The two Japanese prizes were mentioned above. On April 20, 1985, the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan established the Japan Prize. At the first award ceremony, a special prize of JPY 50 million was awarded to the Nobel Foundation "in recognition of the role the Nobel Foundation has played since 1901 in promoting science and international understanding." On November 10, 1985, the Inamori Foundation in Kyoto awarded its first Kyoto Prize of JPY 45 million to the Nobel Foundation "with the aim of promoting science, technology and the arts in the spirit of the Nobel Prize."

In 2010, the Nobel Foundation received the Special 20th Anniversary Ho-Am Prize. As the Ho-Am Foundation celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2010, it elected the Nobel Foundation and the Nobel Foundation Rights Association as co recipients of this prize "in light of the two foundations’ immense contribution to human development and in anticipation of even greater contributions in the future".

Nobel Festivities

The Nobel Foundation is an "investment company" with rather unusual facets. Every year this investment company moves into show business by organizing the Nobel Festivities and numerous related arrangements that take place in December. The Nobel Foundation is responsible for organizing the Nobel Festivities in Stockholm, while in Norway the Norwegian Nobel Committee is in charge of the corresponding arrangements. On December 10, 1901, the Nobel Prizes were awarded for the first time in Stockholm and in Christiania (now Oslo) respectively.

Stockholm

The Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm took place at the Old Royal Academy of Music during the years 1901-1925. Parenthetically, it is worth mentioning that during the first years the names of the Nobel Laureates were not made public until the Award Ceremony itself.

First Nobel Prize Award Ceremony
The first Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Old Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm (1901).
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Since 1926, the Prize Award Ceremony has taken place at the Stockholm Concert Hall with few exceptions. In 1971 the venue was the Philadelphia Church and in 1972 the St. Erik International Fair (known today as Stockholm International Fairs) in Älvsjö;, both times due to repairs at the Concert Hall. In 1975 the Ceremony again took place at the St. Erik International Fair and in 1991 at the Stockholm Globe Arena, now due to special commemorations of Nobel history that required large seating capacity. In 1975, it was the 75th anniversary of the Nobel Foundation that was being commemorated, while in 1991 the 90th anniversary of the first Nobel Prizes was the focus of the celebrations. In 1975 about 70 pre-1975 Nobel Laureates attended, and in 1991 approximately 130 pre-1991 Laureates. When the Foundation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prizes in 2001, the number of pre-2001 Laureates in attendance was approximately 160.

Nobel Prize Award Ceremony
Crown Prince Carl Gustaf of Sweden (now King), hands over the 1972 Nobel Prize for Literature to Heinrich Böll during the Prize Award Ceremony at the St. Erik International Fair (known today as Stockholm International Fairs) in Älvsjö.
Copyright © Reportagebild

 

When the Prize Award Ceremony returned to the Concert Hall in 1973 after an absence of two years, the whole stage setting had changed. The most significant change was that the King and Queen of Sweden and other members of the Royal Family, who had previously always sat in the front row of the auditorium, were moved up and seated on one side of the stage. The Laureates sat on the other side and members of the Prize-Awarding Institutions behind them. In 1973, Carl XVI Gustaf presented the Nobel Prizes for the first time as His Majesty the King of Sweden. Once before, in 1972, owing to the illness of his grandfather King Gustaf VI Adolf, he had presented the Prizes, but in the capacity of Crown Prince. The next change in the stage at the Concert Hall was in 1992. The stage design was now changed to resemble that of the first Prize Award Ceremony held at the Stockholm Concert Hall in 1926. As in 1926, the chairs on the stage were placed in an amphitheatrical grouping. An effort was made by various means to highlight the simplicity of the room and to emphasize the academic nature of the festivities.

Prize Award Ceremony at the Concert Hall in 1926
Prize Award Ceremony at the Concert Hall in 1926.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall in 1973
Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Concert Hall in 1973.
Copyright © Pressens Bild

Globen
The Nobel Prize Award Ceremony at the Stockholm Globe Arena in 1991.
Copyright © Pressens Bild

Stockholm Concert Hall
The new stage at the Stockholm Concert Hall in 1992.
Copyright © Reportagebild

Until the early 1930s, the Nobel Banquet took place at the Hall of Mirrors in the Grand Hôtel, Stockholm. In its very first years, 1901 and 1902, the banquet was an exclusive party for men only. Once the Stockholm City Hall had been built, in 1930 a decision was made to hold the Banquet in its fantastic Golden Hall this year and in the future. For some reason the Nobel Banquets of 1931 and 1932 took place at the Grand Hôtel again, but between 1933 and 1973 it was held in the Golden Hall. Over time, the character of the Banquets changed and interest in participating became greater and greater. Starting in 1974, due to the need for more space the Nobel Banquet was moved from the Golden Hall to the larger Blue Hall of the City Hall, which today accommodates some 1,300 guests. The Blue Hall had only been used for the Banquet once before, in 1950, when the Nobel Foundation celebrated its 50th anniversary with approximately 32 pre-1950 Laureates participating.

Nobel Banquet
The Nobel Banquet at the Golden Hall of the Stockholm City Hall in 1973.

Nobel Banquet
The Nobel Banquet at the Blue Hall of the Stockholm City Hall in 1998.
Photo: Hans Pettersson

There are always exceptions to the rules. In 1907, there were no festivities in Stockholm because the Royal Court was in mourning. King Oscar II had just died. The Laureates were awarded their prizes at a ceremony at the auditorium of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. During 1914-1918 the Nobel Festivities were called off in Sweden and in Norway, except for a ceremony in 1917 at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in the presence of King Haakon to announce that the International Red Cross had been awarded the Peace Prize.

The first Nobel Prizes after the World War I - the 1919 prizes - were awarded in June the next year in order to give the Festivities an atmosphere of early Swedish summer with sunshine, light and greenery instead of dark December with cold and wet snow. The Ceremony took place on June 2, 1920 at the Royal Academy of Music, with the subsequent Banquet at the Hasselbacken restaurant near the Skansen outdoor museum. This was not a success. No members of the Royal Family were present because of the death of Crown Princess Margaretha. The weather was gray, rainy and cold. As a result of disappointment at the absence of the King, the bad weather and the questionable suitability of Hasselbacken for banquets of this kind, the Nobel Festivities of 1920 reverted to earlier tradition and were held on December 10; the Prize Award Ceremony - again attended by His Majesty the King - at the Royal Academy of Music and the Nobel Banquet at the Hall of Mirrors in the Grand Hôtel.

In 1924 the Nobel Festivities were cancelled in Stockholm. Neither of the two Laureates could be present: the Laureate in Physiology or Medicine was traveling and the Literature Laureate was unwell. The Prizes in Physics and Chemistry were reserved that year.

During the period 1939-1943, the Nobel Festivities were called off. In 1939 only the Laureate in Literature, Frans Eemil Sillanpää; from Finland, received his Prize in Stockholm at a small ceremony, with a subsequent dinner at the restaurant "Den Gyldene Freden" together with the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Anders Österling. During 1940-1942 no Physics, Chemistry or Medicine Prizes were awarded, during 1940-1943 no Literature Prizes, and during 1939-1943 no Peace Prizes.

In 1944 there were no Festivities in Stockholm, but a luncheon was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York organized by the American Scandinavian Foundation. Some 1943 and 1944 Laureates received their Prizes from the Swedish Minister (chief diplomat) in Washington, W. F. Boström; two Physics Laureates - Otto Stern (1943) and Isidor Isaac Rabi (1944) - and four Laureates in Physiology or Medicine - Henrik Dam and Edward Doisy (1943), and Joseph Erlanger and Herbert S. Gasser (1944). Speeches by Sweden's Crown Prince Gustaf Adolf and by Professor The Svedberg were broadcast on American radio the same day. The 1943 Laureate in Chemistry, George de Hevesy, received his Prize in Sweden without any ceremonies and the 1944 Literature Laureate, Johannes V. Jensen from Denmark, received his Prize in Stockholm in 1945.

Just before and during the war, Adolf Hitler forbade Laureates from Germany - Richard Kuhn (Chemistry, 1938), Adolf Friedrich Johan Butenandt (Chemistry, 1939) and Gerhard Domagk (Physiology or Medicine, 1939) - from accepting their Prizes at that time. However, they received their insignia on later occasions.

guests at Nobel Dinner
Guests at the Nobel Dinner at the Swedish Academy in 1956.
Copyright © The Nobel Foundation

In 1956, due to the crisis in Hungary, a smaller, more private dinner at the Swedish Academy replaced the glittering banquet in the City Hall, although the Prize Award Ceremony took place as usual at the Concert Hall.

Christiania/Oslo

In Norway, during the years 1901-1904 the decision on the Peace Prize was announced at a meeting of the Storting on December 10, after which the recipients were informed in writing. On December 10, 1905, the Nobel Institute's new building at Drammensveien 19 was inaugurated in the presence of the Norwegian Royal Couple, and it was announced that Bertha von Suttner had received the 1905 Peace Prize. The Laureate herself was not present. During 1905-1946 the Prize Award Ceremonies were held at the Nobel Institute building, during 1947-1989 in the auditorium of the University of Oslo and since 1990 at the Oslo City Hall. The King of Norway is present, but it is the Chairman of the Nobel Committee who hands over the Prize to the Laureate or Laureates. The Nobel Banquet in Norway is a dignified formal occasion, but much less pretentious than the Banquet in Stockholm. It takes place at the Grand Hôtel in Oslo, with approximately 250 guests.

Oslo City Hall
The Peace Prize Award Ceremony at the Oslo City Hall.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee and the Nobel Foundation during World War II

In 1940, three members of the Storting's Nobel Committee were in exile due to the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germany, which lasted until 1945. The remaining members and deputies kept the work of the Committee going. Because the Storting could not elect new Committee members, the Nobel Foundation asked existing members to continue in their posts.

In January 1944, pro-Nazi Prime Minister Vidkun Quisling and his administration wanted to take over the functions of the Nobel Committee in Norway and seize control of the Nobel Institute's building on Drammensveien. After consultations with the Swedish Foreign Ministry and the Director of the Nobel Institute, the Nobel Foundation declared that the Nobel Institute was Swedish property. Those Committee members who had remained in Norway stated in writing that under the prevailing circumstances, they could not continue their work. Sweden's consul general in Oslo, who had already moved into an office on the Nobel Institute's premises, took over the management of the building and the functions of the Nobel Institute. In 1944-1945 the Nobel Foundation (Hammarskjöld and Ekeberg) together with the members of the Nobel Committee in exile ensured that nominations were submitted for the 1945 Peace Prize.

A New Century

After more than a hundred years of existence, the Nobel Prizes - as well as the centenarian Nobel Foundation - have become solid institutions, based on a great tradition since their beginning. The original criticisms aimed at the whole idea of the Nobel Prizes have faded into oblivion. Both in Sweden and in Norway, the awarding of the prizes is regarded as an event of national importance. The Nobel Foundation has now entered a new century, with museum and exhibition projects, while being able to look back at its past successes in many fields.

Centennial Exhibition of the Nobel Prize

Eyewitness Reports from the Nobel Festivities

Translated by Victor Kayfetz




* Birgitta Lemmel was Head of Information of the Nobel Foundation in 1986-1996.

 

First published 29 June 2000
(updated 4 February 2011)

 

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2011
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