Paul Barbe – Alfred Nobel’s Partner in France

Paul François Barbe became Alfred Nobel’s French partner for many years. As early as 1868, Nobel went into partnership with Barbe for the exploitation of dynamite in France. In 1870, under Barbe’s forceful management, the manufacture of dynamite began in Paulille near the Spanish border, an isolated spot chosen for security reasons. Barbe’s skill in organizing and administrative talent were extremely useful, and he was put in charge of the establishment and administration of the different companies, while Alfred Nobel supervised technical improvements and other main organizational matters.

With Barbe’s help, dynamite companies were founded in Italy, Spain and Switzerland. He came to have a decisive influence on the further development of the Nobel companies on the continent. Together they laid the foundation for a multinational empire. The final result was the establishment of the two large trust companies, Nobel Dynamite Trust Co. and Société Centrale de Dynamite.

Alfred Nobel had a competent business partner in Barbe, but the two never became close friends. Alfred was full of respect for Barbe’s professionalism and industriousness, but soon became aware of the latter’s unreliability whenever his own interests were concerned. Barbe’s business ethics did not measure up to Alfred’s strict standards.

Alfred Nobel once described Barbe as someone “with excellent capacity for work but whose conscience is more elastic than rubber. It is a pity, since his combination of sense and energy are so rare.”

In 1885, Barbe was elected to the Chamber of Deputies and in 1887, he became Minister of Agriculture. The latter lasted for a year, but after that he continued to exert great political influence as a deputy. Barbe was involved in illegal speculation activities. He escaped his creditors by taking his own life in 1890. Barbe’s illegal manipulations behind Nobel’s back were disclosed upon his death and caused Nobel gigantic losses. Also the Panama scandal put Alfred Nobel in a very precarious situation because of Barbe’s involvement.

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