The Timeline: Nobel Prizes

First prizes, 1901

Shortly before his death in 1896, Swedish scientist Alfred Nobel – the inventor of dynamite – bequeathed 94 per cent of his wealth towards the creation of five prizes to "those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". In 1901, the first winners were announced. The first Prize for Literature didn't go to Leo Tolstoy but to poet Sully Prudhomme. Awards were also given in physics, chemistry, peace and medicine.

The Curies, 1903

Maria Sklodowska-Curie became the first female laureate when she, with her husband Pierre Curie, was awarded the Physics Prize in 1903 for discovering radioactivity. Eight years later, she won the Chemistry Prize, becoming one of four double-winners. The Curie family hold five awards – the most by one family.

Posthumous Prize, 1931

In 1931, Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt died between nominations and prize giving. He was awarded the prize, and in 1961 former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld won the Peace Prize posthumously. The rules changed 13 years later; now winners must be alive at the time of the awards' announcement.

Refusals and omissions, 1939

Despite Sweden's neutrality during the Second World War, Hitler refused to allow Richard Kuhn, Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt and Gerhard Domagk to collect awards. During the war, prizes were awarded sporadically. In 1939 and during the Norwegian occupation of 1940-42 no prizes were given.

The Laureate who wasn't, 1949

Mahatma Gandhi was nominated for the Peace Prize four times, the last just days before his death in 1948. Instead of awarding him posthumously, organisers withheld that year's prize. They later admitted regrets and, when the Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, the chairman said it was "in part a tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi."

The last new award, 1968

In 1968, Sweden's central bank celebrated its 300th anniversary with a donation to the Nobel Foundation. The money funded a new award, the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics which was awarded for the first time to Jan Tinbergen and Ragnar Frisch. The Nobel Foundation has said there will be no more new prizes.

A little too early? 2009

Barack Obama had been in office 11 days when nominations closed for the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. Eight months later, he won it. Critics claimed he had yet to prove himself, while he admitted he didn't feel he deserved the honour.

South American dream, 2010

Yesterday the Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Prize for Literature, aged 74. Among South America's most acclaimed writers, his win may go some way in addressing the accusations of "Euro-centrism" that dog the Nobel prize.

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