On this day in 1901, the first Nobel prizes were awarded in ceremonies in Sweden and Norway. Since then, the Nobel Peace Prize has earned special significance, with 21 Americans gaining the honor, along with several U.S.-based organizations.
The first Nobel ceremonies were secretive and suspenseful. In 1975, one witness to the event in Sweden recounted the drama in 1901, when four of the five winners were announced live at an event.
“The Nobel Laureates' names had been kept secret – they were not, as now, revealed months in advance. When three distinguished German-speaking gentlemen arrived by train from the south and were taken to the Grand Hotel, it was clear that they must be the Nobel Laureates,” said Folke Henschen.
In Oslo, Norway, the Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Jean Henry Dunant and Frédéric Passy for their international peace efforts.
Since then, Americans have played a visible role as recipients. The first American to win a Noble prize of any kind was President Theodore Roosevelt, who won the 1905 Peace Prize for arbitrating the end of hostilities between Japan and Russia.
Here are 10 other American Noble Peace Prize winners from the past century, including a few names you may recognize:
1. President Woodrow Wilson (1919). Wilson was honored for his role in peace talks after World War I concluded. He actually received his award in 1920 after the committee waited for a year to find a candidate that met the conditions of Alfred Nobel’s will.
2. Frank B. Kellogg (1929). Along with French politician Aristide Briand, he co-authored the Kellogg-Briand treaty that intended to allow for “the renunciation of war as an instrument of national policy.”
3. Jane Addams (1931). She shared the award with Nicholas Murray Butler. Addams was a leading figure in pacifist movements internationally.
4. Emily Greene Balch (1946). Balch had worked with Addams on peace efforts during World War I. After she won the Nobel Peace Prize right after World War II ended, the U.S. government didn’t congratulate her – she was seen as a radical in the early Cold War era.
5. Linus Pauling (1962). He has already won a Nobel prize as a chemist in 1954, but Pauling was honored again in1962 for his efforts to end above-ground nuclear weapons testing. Pauling is the only person to win two unshared Nobel Prizes.
6. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1964). Dr. King received his Nobel Prize for his non-violent efforts to promote civil justice. Ironically, one of his role models, Mahatma Gandhi, was never given a Nobel Prize during his lifetime.
7. Henry Kissinger (1973). Kissinger was born in Germany, but he became a naturalized citizen while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was awarded his Peace Prize for efforts to end the Vietnam War.
8. Jody Williams (1997). She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her efforts to ban and clear anti-personnel mines.
9. Al Gore (2007). Gore was a co-winner of the Peace Prize for efforts “to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”
10. President Barack Obama (2009). President Obama was awarded the prize just eight months into his first term in office, for “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”