Born in Stockholm, Alfred Nobel was the third son of Immanuel Nobel (1801–1872), an inventor and engineer, and Carolina Andriette (Ahlsell) Nobel (1805–1889).

Nobel's father moved to Saint Petersburg in 1837 and grew successful there as a manufacturer of machine tools and explosives. He invented veneer lathe and started work on the torpedo.

In 1842, the family joined him in the city. Now prosperous, his parents were able to send Nobel to private tutors and the boy excelled in his studies, particularly in chemistry and languages, achieving fluency in English, French, German and Russian.

As a young man, Nobel studied with chemist Nikolai Zinin; then, in 1850, went to Paris to further the work.

At age 18, he went to the United States for one year to study, working for a short period under Swedish-American inventor John Ericsson, who designed the American Civil War ironclad USS Monitor.

Nobel filed his first patent, an English patent for a gas meter, in 1857.

Nobel filed his first Swedish patent, which he received in 1863, was on 'ways to prepare gunpowder'.

Nobel invented a detonator in 1863.

On 3 September 1864, a shed used for preparation of nitroglycerin exploded at the factory in Heleneborg, Stockholm, killing five people, including Nobel's younger brother Emil.

Nobel in 1865 designed the blasting cap.

Nobel invented dynamite in 1867, a substance easier and safer to handle than the more unstable nitroglycerin.

In 1875 Nobel invented gelignite, more stable and powerful than dynamite.

Nobel was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1884, the same institution that would later select laureates for two of the Nobel prizes.

In 1887, Nobel patented ballistite, a predecessor of cordite.

Accused of “high treason against France” for selling Ballistite to Italy, Nobel moved from Paris to Sanremo, Italy in 1891.

Nobel received an honorary doctorate from Uppsala University in 1893.

On 27 November 1895, at the Swedish-Norwegian Club in Paris, Nobel signed his last will and testament and set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded annually without distinction of nationality.

On December 10, 1896, Alfred Nobel succumbed to a lingering heart ailment, suffered a stroke, and died.