Biology in the Laboratory

Seeing Small

Who invented the compound microscope?

The principle of the compound microscope, in which two or more lenses are arranged to form an enlarged image of an object, occurred independently, at about the same time, to more than one person. Certainly many opticians were active in the construction of telescopes at the end of the sixteenth century, especially in Holland, so it is likely that the idea of the microscope may have occurred to several of them independently. In all probability the date may be placed within the period 1590–1609, and the credit should go to three spectacle makers in Holland. Dutch spectacle makers Zacharias Janssen (or Jansen; c. 1580–c. 1638), German-Dutch lensmaker Hans Lippershey (1570–1619), and although disputed, possibly Zacharias Janssen’s father Hans Janssen have all been cited at various times as deserving chief credit. English scientist and inventor Robert Hooke (1635–1703) was the first to make the best use of a compound microscope, and his book Micrographia, published in 1665, contains some of the most beautiful drawings of microscopic observations ever made.


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