First awarded in 1901, the Nobel Prize recognizes international excellence in six different fields: physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, peace and economics. Between 1901 and 2017, the Nobel committee awarded a total of 896 Nobel Prizes. In the Prize’s early years, the vast majority of people winning the Nobel Peace prize came from European backgrounds. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize and the first American to win any Nobel in 1905. Albert Michelson followed in 1907 by winning a Nobel Prize in physics.
First Nobel Prize in Physics
In 1907, Albert Michelson became the first American scientist to receive a Nobel Prize in science in the field of physics for his work in optical physics and electro-magnetism. His discoveries involved inventing and utilizing precision instruments such as the interferometer which measured the speed of light. Michelson was born in Prussia but emigrated to the United States when he was just two years old. He went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy and later worked at the University of Chicago and also the Mount Wilson Observatory in Pasadena.
First Nobel Prize in Chemistry
A chemistry professor at Harvard University, Theodore W. Richards, became the second American scientist to receive a Nobel Prize. He was the first to receive the award for chemistry during the 1907 Nobel Prize awards. Richards's research examined ways of determining the atomic weight of elements and by 1912 he had recalculated the weights of 30 important elements with much greater accuracy than had previously been possible. Richards also worked on molecular and atomic volume and published more than 300 research papers during his career.
Nobel Prize in Medicine
The Nobel Prize for Medicine was first awarded to an American in 1933. Thomas Hunt Morgan received the prize for his work in genetics. He conducted experiments with fruit flies, breeding them to investigate how genes functioned during the reproductive process. This research, which involved analyzing millions of individual flies, led to the realization that genes within chromosomes are arranged in a linear pattern. In addition to this genetic work, Morgan also undertook research in embryology which determined that gravity played no important role in the development of a fertilized egg.
Most Famous American Winner
Perhaps the most famous American Nobel winner was not an American citizen at the time of his award. German-born Albert Einstein received his award in 1922 for ground-breaking work in theoretical physics. His research took place when he was working at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin. Einstein left Germany for political reasons in 1933 and took refuge in the United States. He took on American citizenship in 1940 and died in Princeton, NJ in 1955.
Theodore Roosevelt's Nobel Prize
Of people who have won the Nobel Peace Prize, four different presidents are on the list starting with Theodore Roosevelt's Nobel Prize. He was the first American to win a Nobel in any category and won for helping negotiate the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. The other three Nobel Peace Prize winning presidents are Woodrow Wilson, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.
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- Scientific American: 12 Surprising Facts about Nobel Prizes
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