Hans Lippershey

countryman who has a good claim to have invented the microscope

Lippershey (inset left) was a German who lived his adult life in Middelburg, in the Netherlands. He developed and in 1608 made public designs for a "perspective glass", "an instrument for seeing at a distance". At either end of a paper tube, it had a weak convex objective lens and a strong concave eyepiece lens that magnified three to four times. Lippershey was denied a patent because another Dutchman, Jacob Metius, filed a competing claim.

These glasses were easy to copy, and became popular throughout Europe within months for their military and commercial application of identifying ships from afar. Later, one of Lippershey's close neighbors in Middelburg, Zacharias Jansen (inset right), made a credible claim to have invented the telescope before Lippershey.

But these men were lens grinders, not scientists. By the following summer, Galileo had heard about Lippershey's design, made a similar spyglass of his own, and turned it to the stars. It was another decade before the first microscopes used this double lens system to look closely at little things. From the point of view of the lens, however, there isn't any difference between very small and very far away. It's just refracting light.

The illustration in the backgroud is titled Geodetic measurements from De quadrante geometrico libellus by Cornelis de Judaeis and Levinus Hulsius (Nuremberg, 1594).