The world has advanced incredibly in the past years and decades, and humans have invented different instruments to make lives easier. From planes to reach their destinations faster and mobile phones that transformed communication, we have come a long way. Similarly, the invention of the microscope proved to be revolutionary to science. It allowed us to study objects that we could not understand otherwise. Why was the microscope invented, though? What intrigued scientists to manufacture something that could enlarge objects?
This article answers all your questions with a complete history of microscopes over centuries.
Table of Contents
When was the Microscope Invented?
Microscopes date back to the 16th century when a modest Dutch eyeglass maker, Zacharias Janssen, created the first microscope in the 1590s.
The Dutch diplomat William Boreel wrote a letter to the French king in the 1950s mentioning the invention of the microscope in the 1590s. He explained the microscope as a device that rose vertically from a brass tripod with a two-inch diameter main tube and an ebony disk at its base. He also mentioned a convex lens and a concave lens on either side of the disk, which allowed light to bend and enlarge images.
Today, historians have not been able to find any early model of Janssen microscopes, but a Middleburg museum has a Janssen microscope dated from 1595. The design is slightly different from what Boreel described; it has three tubes, two of which can slide into the third that acts as an outer casing. This handheld microscope could magnify images up to ten times at its maximum limit.
Who Invented the Microscope?
Zacharias Janssen was the son of a spectacle maker Hans Janssen in Holland. The 1950s were the era of eyeglasses and spectacles becoming popular among the masses. Zacharias Janssen produced eyeglasses, which eventually laid the foundation for the microscope invention.
While the invention of the microscope is attributed to Zacharias Janssen, historians believe that Hans Janssen must have played a pivotal role as Zacharias Janssen was only a teenager then.
The Janssen microscopes were the first ever proper microscope with rough image quality, but they were a breakthrough in an era where no one thought this was attainable.
Why was the Microscope Invented?
If you wonder, “Why was the microscope invented?” The answer is simple: Humans are curious by nature and want to learn more about their surroundings. Thus, experimenting with lenses in the 1st century AD, they studied magnified objects. It allowed us to study the details of biological objects. The earliest scientists used water microscopes, followed by other variations like stereo, compound, and electron microscopes.
Several microscope types have enabled us to study the intricate details of objects and analyze them at cellular and atomic levels. Understanding atoms and cells has been a scientific breakthrough, facilitating scientists to realize the properties of different objects in the environment.
What is the Water Microscope?
Water microscopes have been known through the Ancient Chinese text, describing them as a tube with a lens at the end. The tube was filled with water according to the degree of magnification to be studied. It has been used for over 4,000 years. The Chinese scientists achieved a maximum magnification of 150 times.
This microscope is considered the earliest with an impressive magnification to magnify objects in our surroundings.
Microscopes over the Centuries
Romans invented glass during the 1st century AD and experimented with glass in different shapes. They realized the glass could magnify by holding the lenses over an object. These early lenses were called magnifiers and burning glasses. Eyeglass makers started using these lenses in the 13th century.
The earliest simple microscopes were only magnifying glasses with up to 10x magnification. Biologists used these microscopes to observe insects. The first primitive microscope with two lenses at opposite ends of a tube dates back to the 1300s.
Janssen invented the first microscope model in the 1590s, which became popular among scientists to observe objects invisible to the naked eye. It allowed them to understand the basics of some micro-objects and enabled them to study the details of macro-objects.
In 1609 Galileo Galilei perfected the first device known as a microscope.
Henry Power first published observations made with a microscope, studying the details of bacteria and cells. Marcello Malphigi later used the microscope to study capillaries in frog lungs, stamping the theory of the microscope’s working.
With time, Robert Hooke proposed changes in the microscope design and modified the instrument with the help of London instrument maker Christopher Cock. They added an eyecup to maintain the correct distance between the eyepiece and the eye, two separate tubes for viewing, a bi-concave objective lens, and a tube. Hooke observed thin slices of cork under a microscope and described his observation as:
“All perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, these pores, or cells, were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw.”
He later called them “cells,” which were later recognized as the building blocks of living organisms.
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, often considered the microscope’s inventor, further worked on the instrument to improve magnification. His changes in the microscope result in up to 270 times magnified images with a single lens. He studied the structure of microbes from tooth scrapings and pond water.
These modifications were followed by Edmund Culpeper’s tripod microscope design. In the 18th century, many instrument designers introduced improved versions of Culpeper’s microscope. They worked on the lenses and focal distances, but the optical aberrations and blurred imaging continued. The 19th century proved transformational for microscopes, leading to the development of achromatic objective lenses that significantly reduced spherical aberration.
By the dawn of the 20th century, microscopes had changed drastically from their initial structure. Now microscopes have better resolution, improved focus, contrast-enhancing features, digital imaging, etc. Ernst Ruska developed the electron microscope in 1938, six years after the invention of the phase contrast microscope.
The Bottom Line
Microscopes have been pivotal in enabling humans to study objects’ details beyond the eye’s visibility. Janssen designed and manufactured the first microscope in the 1590s, followed by various changes until Galileo Galilei perfected the first microscope in 1609. The microscope kept advancing over the years, leading to significant improvements such as well-focused images, color correction, fluorescence, digital imaging, etc.
Today, various microscopes, including electron, light, and stereo microscopes, are used in different branches of science. But if you wonder, “Why was the microscope invented,” there is one simple explanation: curiosity. Humans have always wanted to know more about their surroundings beyond the surface, and microscopes made it possible.
Who first invented the microscope?
The first microscope, with two lenses at opposite ends of a tube, dates back to the 1300s. However, Hans and Zacharias Janssen designed and manufactured the first microscope in the 1590s.
Who is the father of the microscope?
Antoni van Leeuwenhoek is known as the father of microscopy for his contribution to microscopic studies. He also worked on the instrument to improve magnification. His changes in the microscope resulted in up to 270 times magnified images with a single lens.
Who named cells?
Robert Hooke studied these slices of cork and called the pores “cells.” He mentioned, “All perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb, these pores, or cells, were indeed the first microscopical pores I ever saw.” And later called them cells resembling cells in a monastery.