Who Were The First Recipients Of The Nobel Prize?

Stamp commemorating Nobel Prize laureate Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff. Editorial credit: Boris15 / Shutterstock.com
Stamp commemorating Nobel Prize laureate Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff. Editorial credit: Boris15 / Shutterstock.com

The Nobel Prizes are prizes awarded every year to people who make exceptional contributions to six fields namely chemistry, physiology, medicine, peace, literature, and physics. The prizes were established in 1985 after Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel left instructions upon his death that the awards are to be managed by the Nobel Foundation, which was established on June 29, 1900. Each recipient (or laureate) of a Nobel Prize receives a sum of money, a diploma, and a medal. The prizes are awarded every year on December 10 in Stockholm. The first Nobel Prizes were awarded in 1901 in the original six categories established by Alfred Nobel.

First Recipients of the Nobel Prize

The first Nobel Prize for physics went to German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen who discovered X-rays while the chemistry prize was awarded to Dutch chemist Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff for his work on chemical thermodynamics, The prize for physiology/medicine went to Emil von Behring, a German physiologist who had created a diphtheria antitoxin, and was known as the "savior of children." The prize for literature went to French poet Sully Prudhomme. The peace prize was jointly awarded to Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy. The two were active in the Alliance for Order and Civilization. Dunant, a Swiss social activist, was crucial in initiating the Geneva Convention and had founded the International Red Cross while Passy had founded the Peace League.


Different committees determine the prizes. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences determines the prizes in chemistry, economics, and physics while the Nobel Assembly at the Karolinska Institute determines the prize for physiology or medicine. The Norwegian Nobel Committee is responsible for the peace prize while the literature prize is under the Swedish Academy. In 1901, the winners got $16,641 while in 2017 they got $993,285.

Other Significant Firsts

The Nobel Prize in economics was first awarded in 1969 to Ragnar Frisch and Jan Tinbergen. The first woman to get a prize was Marie Curie in 1903 in physics. Marie Curie was also the first person to win the Nobel Prize more than once after receiving the chemistry prize in 1911. Malala Yousafzai is the youngest person to receive a Nobel Prize when she won the Peace Price in 2014 at the age of seventeen. 

Total Number of Recipients

From 1901 to 2017, there have been a total of 923 people and establishments that have received Nobel Prizes. These prizes were bestowed 585 times where 884 of the total number of recipients are men, 48 are women, and 24 are organizations. These numbers do not add up to 923 because some people and organizations have received the prizes more than once. This number also includes the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, which was established in 1968 by the central bank of Sweden.


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