First issued in 1901, the Nobel Prize is one of the highest honors a person can receive in their lifetime. The Nobel Prize was founded by Swedish engineer, inventor, and chemist Alfred Nobel, whose will established the Nobel Foundation and directed that the prizes be awarded annually "to those who, during the preceding year, have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind." Nobel further instructed that "no consideration be given to nationality, but that the prize be awarded to the worthiest person, whether or not they are Scandinavian."
Nobel Prizes are awarded in five areas: peace, literature, physics, chemistry, and physiology or medicine. In 1969, an additional prize, titled the "Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel" (SRPESMAN), was established by Sweden's central bank and has been incorporated into the Nobels as well.
Top 11 Countries with the Most Nobel Prize Winners (1901-2021)
Currently, the United States has won the highest number of Nobel Prizes with 400 from 1901 to 2021. The nation with the next highest number of Nobel Prizes is the United Kingdom with 138. Germany has won the next highest number of prizes with 111 and is the third country with more than 100 Nobel laureates. At times, a given award may be added to multiple countries' totals. For example, Maria Ressa, co-recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, was born in the Philippines, moved to the U.S. as a child, graduated from a U.S. university, and has worked in the Philippines as a university professor and journalist, but maintains close ties to U.S. organizations including CNN and the New York Times. Her award was added to the totals of both the United States and the Philippines.
Nobel Prize rules and total awards
A Nobel Prize can be awarded to one, two, or three people and can be given in recognition of up to two separate works or accomplishments. All prizes except the Peace Prize must be awarded to individuals; the Peace Prize can be given to an organization or institution.
It is possible, however rare, for a person or institution to win the Nobel Prize on more than one occasion. The International Committee of the Red Cross has won the Nobel Peace Prize three times, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has won twice. Four people have won two prizes each: Marie Curie (Physics 1903 & Chemistry 1911), Frederick Sanger (Chemistry 1958 & 1980), John Bardeen (Physics 1956 & 1972), and Linus C. Pauling (Chemistry 1954 and Peace 1962). While three of these four laureates shared at least one of their awards with a co-contributor, Pauling was the lone recipient of both of his awards.
From 1901 to 2021, the Nobel Prizes (including the SRPESMAN) have been awarded 609 times to a total of 943 people and 25 organizations. As of 2021, winners of the Nobel Prize receive a medal, a diploma, and prize money totaling 10 million Swedish Krona (roughly $1,079,430 USD).
How are the Nobel Prize winners chosen?
For the literature and science-based prizes, nomination forms are sent out each year to approximately 3,000 academics, each an expert in a relevant field (physics, chemistry, medicine, economics, literature). For the Nobel Peace Prize, nomination forms are sent to governments, members of the Norwegian Novel Committee, and former Peace Prize laureates.
Once all nominations have been received (by January 31 of a given year), the Nobel Committee narrows the list to 300 potential winners and delivers a list of the nominees, as well as a report detailing their candidacy, to the institutions that award each prize. The institutions then select the winners, who are then known as Nobel laureates, by a majority vote. Only when they've won are candidates informed of their nomination.