Some ancient Asian alchemists were mixing some ingredients together to
form a toffee they thought would make them live forever. They put their
mixture on a small fire, not knowing they had made a mistake. The
mixture started to bubble and boil, and then it burst into flames,
burning down their hut and singeing their beards. Without knowing it
these ancient alchemists had made the first explosives.
The ancient Asians realized after a long while that the mixture that
the alchemists had made could be used. They mixed many other things
together and after many tried and failed attempts they found the answer.
They tried mixing saltpeter and sulfur, two common materials, and found
that the mixture actually detonated. They were very pleased with their
The Asians did not use their new creation for war. They made the first
fireworks out of the substance. They used their fireworks as signals for
many things such as signaling that another army was approaching. The
Asians kept developing their creation, not using their knowledge for
The Asians finally designed a weapon for the need for one was so great.
They took a hollowed piece of bamboo and filled it with the powder. Then
they stuffed arrows in it. These were the first rockets. The Asians
tried to keep their new invention to themselves, not letting the outside
world know of it.
But their secret couldnšt last
for ever. The information leaked to the
Arabs who absorbed the new knowledge quickly. The Arabs made the Asian
weapons and brought the knowledge westward.The Arabs transferred the
knowledge on to the Europeans who, just like the Arabs absorbed it
quickly.The era of explosives had begun.
In the 1200šs Roger Bacon, a European, was interested in the new
knowledge. He studied it and tested it over and over again. After many
months he found the perfect ratio of saltpeter, sulfur, and a new
ingredient, charcoal. After he found out the perfect ratio he wrote the
ingredients and the amounts in code in his diary. Roger Bacon had made,
and recorded, the first black powder(the early form of gunpowder).
One-hundred years after the discovery of Roger Bacon, a man named
friar Berthold Shwarts looked into this black powder. Bacon did not get
credit for the making of black powder because he didnšt use his
invention. Berthold Schwarts saw this and put his mind to work. He
thought and tried many things and finally thought of a great idea.
Schwarts took a long iron tube and closed one end except for a tiny
hole. He filled the tube with black powder and stuffed a small pebble in
it. He touched a flame to the tiny hole and the pebble shot through the
air with great speed. Schwarts had invented guns.
Soon guns became cannons which could launch boulders through stone
castle walls. The age when the rich barons could sit in their castles
and feel safe was over. The age when nights could don their armor and
feel like a winner before the battle was over. A new age of brutality
Gunpowder also sped up the very slow process of digging up stones. With
gunpowder they could blow the stones out of the ground. Before, only the
rich people could have stone houses because it took so long. Now even
some poor people cold have a house of stone. This was a great
Five hundred years after Berthold Schwarts ever made guns and six
hundred years after Roger Bacon ever played with sulfur and saltpeter,
an Italian scientist named Ascano Sobrero, thought of a new idea. He
mixed nitric acid and glycerin together to see what would happen. The
new substance nearly exploded in his face! Sobrero called his new
creation nitroglycerin. He was then added to the list.
Ascano Sobrero did many tests on the new liquid. He saw that the highly
unstable mixture was very powerful. He knew that nitroglycerin was very
dangerous. Sobrero played with the nitroglycerin, but didnšt use it.
This was the same mistake that Bacon had made.
Many years later, in the 19th century to be exact, a Swedish scientist
tried his luck with nitroglycerin. Alfred Nobel tried putting dry
substances into the unstable mixture. He tried putting many things in
it, including jelly. This did fairly well but it didnšt burn well. He
then tried putting in wood shavings and charcoal, but they didnšt help
in making it safer to handle. The wood shavings actually made it more
unsafe. This was not an easy job for Nobel.
One day the idea popped into his head. Nobel went and got some
kieselguhr , a German material that is made of small, fossilized remains
of sea animals. When he got back he mixed the dry powder with the
nitroglycerin. He tested the new substance and found that it worked. He
found that kieselguhr could absorb many times its own weight in
nitroglycerin. This was one of the many true great inventions.
Nobel named his invention dynamite. This was one of the first high
explosives. People used the new explosive for excavating and tunneling.
Nobel got the credit for not only nitroglycerin but dynamite, too. Nobel
became very rich and famous.
Many years later Alfred Nobel died. He left his death money for prizes.
The person that did best in some certain categories got thousands of
dollars for their work. The prizes were given to the best in Chemistry,
Medicine, Physics, Literature, and the promotion of peace. The prizes
were, and still are, given out yearly.
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