The early twentieth century was a golden age for Dutch science and scholarship. Indeed, it is sometimes referred to as the “Second Dutch Golden Age”. The history of the Nobel Prizes speaks volumes: the very first Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Dutch chemist Jacobus van ’t Hoff, and the year thereafter, the Nobel Prize for Physics went to Academy members Hendrik Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman.
The Nobel Prizes did not make a very deep impression on other Academy members. The prizes had only recently been established, and were not yet viewed with the almost mystical reverence with which they are currently regarded.
Lorentz, Zeeman and Van ’t Hoff
The minutes of the Academy meeting of 27 December 1902 mention the prizes in passing; indeed, the document wastes few words on them: “The Chairman reminded the Meeting that Messrs Lorentz and Zeeman had been accorded the Nobel Prize for Physics. He praised them and thanked them on behalf of the Division for the way in which they had endeavoured to bring honour to Dutch science.” The meeting then carried on with its normal business.
There is no mention whatsoever in the Academy’s annals of Van 't Hoff’s Nobel Prize. Van 't Hoff had departed for Berlin several years before then, however, and his full membership had been converted into a corresponding membership. Lorentz was in any event unconcerned by the brief report of his honour: he served as the chairman of Science Division from 1909 to 1921.
Academy members who have won the Nobel Prize
1901: Chemistry: Jacobus Henricus van 't Hoff
1902: Physics: Hendrik Antoon Lorentz and Pieter Zeeman
1910: Physics: Johannes Diderik van der Waals
1911: Peace: Tobias Asser
1913: Physics: Heike Kamerlingh Onnes
1924: Physiology or Medicine: Willem Einthoven
1929: Physiology or Medicine: Christiaan Eijkman
1936: Chemistry: Peter Debye
1953: Physics: Frits Zernike
1969: Economics: Jan Tinbergen
1973: Physiology or Medicine: Nico Tinbergen
1975: Economics: Tjalling Koopmans
1984: Physics: Simon van der Meer
1995: Chemistry: Paul Crutzen
1999: Physics: Gerardus 't Hooft and Martinus Veltman