The microscope is one of the most important tools for researchers, scientists, students, and more, but this device didn’t just pop out of nowhere. While the technology has advanced to USB microscope cameras and handheld digital microscopes today, the most basic iteration of the microscope came with the invention of glass. By knowing the origins of the microscope, you can better understand the importance of it today.

A Dutch Beginning

The earliest and simplest inventions that could be categorized as microscopes were really magnifying glasses with one power. These were often used to look at fleas and other tiny insects, giving them the name “flea glasses.”

In 1590, a father-son team of Dutch spectacle makers, Hans and Zacharia Janssen, invented the first microscope by putting several lenses in a tube. Historians are not certain they were the very first ones to make this discovery, as Hans Lippershey filed the first patent for the telescope. In any case, the Janssens were the first to discover that they could magnify a small object close to them in much greater detail than with a simple magnifying glass.

The Idea Spreads

Galileo started experiments of his own after hearing of this discovery. He made improvements on both the microscope and the telescope by delving into the principles of lense and light rays. With the microscope, he added a focusing device and with the telescope he went on to make important discoveries among the stars.

While Galileo concentrated on the heavens, Anthony Leeuwenhoek of Holland took the lead in further microscope development. He worked with magnifying lenses in a dry goods store, and found that he could make small lenses with great curvatures by grinding and polishing them. These amended lenses were able to produce much greater magnification than the early iteration from the Janssens. Leeuwenhoek used his improved microscope to see bacteria, yeast, blood cells, and minuscule animals swimming in a drop of water, all of which had never been seen by man before. He is known as the “Father of Microscopy” after publishing his many discoveries and research papers.

The Modern Microscope

The microscope largely stayed the same until the mid-19th century. The strides at this time transformed the microscope into a quality instrument that more closely resembles today’s version. The German company Zeiss and the American company founded by Charles Spencer were among the first modern producers of fine optical instruments. Today, most microscopes come from Germany, Japan, and China.

As other technology has evolved, this field has produced tools like the USB microscope, which allows photos and video captured by a microscope to be transferred to computers. With USB microscopes, microscope apps, and more, today’s microscopy possibilities are practically endless.