The Origins of the Noble Piece Prize

Alfred Noble worked as a loom designer in the Jacquard loom factory in France in the early 1800's. He was known for constantly sharing with his peers better ways of doing things and for the beauty of his inventions. When people tried to give him credit, he always passed along credit to others.

When Noble was focusing on a particular piece, or task, he would often stay after work to get it just right. His reputation for producing things of beauty and inventiveness caused his factory co-workers to label anything beautiful or inventive as a "Noble piece."

One day the owner of the factory suggested that an annual prize be given to anyone who created something of great beauty or inventiveness. In honor of Alfred Noble, this prize came to be known as the Noble Piece Prize.

When Alfred Noble found out about this prize, he was so overjoyed he exclaimed, "That's dynamite."

The owner of the factory was so happy with the organic development of the Noble Piece Prize, he told his factory workers that he would seek to have the prize given annually by the king.

Alfred Noble, who never said much, spoke up. "I'd much prefer that this prize not be given by a king, but that it given by any contributing member of our community. To me, the honor of giving the prize ought to be as great as the honor of receiving it -- and the people best suited to choose the prize giver are community members themselves. They know. Ask them."

He walked over to one of his co-workers and holding his forearm said, "Rudy, here, has dignity." He walked over to another co-worker and holding her forearm said, "Elizabeth, here, has dignity."

"Don't you see, it's dignity that matters, not status?"

A hush befell the factory floor. Even the looms fell quiet at the poignancy of the moment.

"And we cannot give this prize annually. Our days on Earth are limited. We must give this prize more often, for beauty and inventiveness exist everywhere if we just look for them. Twice a year is how often this prize must be given.

And we must have other Noble prizes beyond the Piece Prize. Do we limit our homage to one another because of words?"

And such is the origins of the Noble Piece Prize, which honors two people twice a year. Today the prize is most often given to people working on public-spirited software projects -- people who embody the spirit of Alfred Noble. By tradition, the giver of the Noble Piece Prize has no connection to software creation, but is a person who embodies great dignity in the community.

By all accounts, there can be no greater honor than the Noble Piece Prize.

February 2, 2005

Phil Shapiro

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Recipients of the Noble Piece Prize

Digital Bicycle, a project of the public access television station in Lowell, Massachusetts. This visionary web site is creating ways for public access television stations to use RSS and BitTorrent to share community created television programming with each other. The Noble Piece Prize was bestowed on the Digital Bicycle in February, 2005.

Wink is beautifully crafted free tutorial and presentation software, primarily used for creating tutorials on how to use software. Audio capabilities will be coming to the next version of Wink. Start learning about Wink now so you'll know all about it before the next version comes out (in a few months.) This software will be immensely useful at community technology centers and other organizations working to expand access to technology and technology learning. The Noble Piece Prize was bestowed on Wink in May, 2005.