Ludwig (1831 - 88) and Robert Nobel (1829 – 96)

The member of the Nobel family most remembered today is Alfred Nobel, inventor of dynamite and founder of the Nobel prizes. However, his brothers Ludwig and Robert were major industrialists. They were responsible for developing Branobel, which was one of the largest oil companies in the world in the late nineteenth century with 12,000 workers producing 50% of the world’s oil.

The father of the Nobel brothers was the Swedish engineer, inventor and industrialist Immanuel Nobel. When his sons were children he moved to St Petersburg in Russia and the family was based there for 20 years. All his sons trained in engineering and technology. The oldest was Robert, who was the first to see the opportunities of the oil industry. He bought oil wells and a refinery at Baku in Azerbaijan around 1873. His brother Ludwig joined him in the business. In 1879, with shares also held by their brother Alfred and other investors, they formed Branobel – short for Naftabolaget Bröderna Nobel (Brothers Nobel Oil Company).

With expert engineers from Sweden, Ludwig and Robert made plans for the handling of oil from well to refinery, store and export. Their technologically advanced approach adopted good practice from other countries and resulted in many innovations. They developed the use of pipelines and rail cars to carry oil. They designed the first modern oil tanker ship, the Zoroaster, built at Gothenburg in 1878. They also created the Petrolea estate at Baku with houses for 100 employees, a school, hospital and theatre as well as their own mansion. On the other side of the Caspian Sea the company produced oil at Cheleken in Turkmenistan.

In 1880 Robert left the management of the business. As the major shareholder, Ludwig became one of the richest men in the world. After his death, his son Emmanuel ran the company until about 1920 when it was nationalised by the Soviets.