A brief history of the Microscope

Seeing is believing and some the most unbelievable visions in the world have been made possible with a microscope. The microscope is one of the inventions that changed our perception of the world and allowed us to interact with the dimension previously unseen.

We have often used microscopes in science labs but most of us have little or no knowledge about the history of this wonderful scientific tool. Here is a brief history of how and when the instrument was first invented and its subsequent evolution through ages.


2nd Century (BC):

The evolution of microscope is incomplete without the mention of glass and water properties that were discovered alongside. It was in the 2nd century that Claudius Ptolemy realized that objects immersed in water tend to bend more than the ones out of water and thus came the concept of refraction (on which the microscope was subsequently invented)


1st Century:

When glass started getting common, people started contemplating its applications. It was one such group of Romans that discovered the enlarging properties of glass.


12th Century:

The Italians however made the first eyeglass and explored the magnification of the glass to its proper usability. The application is credited to a manufacturer by the name of Salvino D’Armate (though his range was limited to one eye only).


16th Century:

The first real Microscope was invented by two Dutch manufacturers of eyeglasses named Zacharias Jansen and Hans (father and son). In 1590, they experimented on the compound microscope that consisted of aligning 2 lenses and arranging them in a tube which produced an enlarged image of the object on the farther side of the lens.


17th Century:

  • In 1609 came a new version of the compound microscope (as the previous version was not accurate enough and enlarged the object while blurring the image). Galileo Galilei came out with a compound microscope that gave  better precision with the aid of  the two lens that were fitted into the instrument, one being convex and the other concave.
  • It was in 1665 that the public became aware of this scientific progress when Robert Hooke wrote his famous book (Micrographia) regarding the specifications of a microscope.
  • Anton van Leeuwenhoek carried the flag to a relatively greater milestone and with the help of grinding lens he made a microscope that was by far the most useful and efficient one. In 1674, his discovery was crucial in the study of microbiological existence such as bacteria.


19th Century:

  • With increasing advancements came increasing difficulties. One such difficulty was the chromatic effect of the varying wave length. However, the problem was resolved in 1826 when Jackson Lister created a chromatic lens. The lens is still in use to this day.
  • The microscope had not achieved its utmost efficiency and in 1870, there came the discovery of Abbe sine condition that once applied, provided crystal clear images of the magnified objects. It is named after Ernst Abbe who furnished this mathematical calculation.


20th Century:

After 4 centuries of practicing, pruning and scientific research, the first electronic microscope was invented by Ernst Ruska in 1931.  The invention added new dimensions to human understanding of nature by exposing the hidden world of molecules and electrons. Electron microscope opened the doors for great scientific advancements in subsequent years.