Prior to 1590, the smallest thing humanity could see was probably no smaller than the width of a hair. As a result, an entire world of microscopic creatures was unknown to the general public and the scientific community. So, who invented the microscope? Well long story short is: we’re not 100% sure. Humorously enough, we do know the first name of the inventor of the microscope — Hans. Though the question is: Hans Janssen or Hans Lippershey?
Hans Janssen and his son, Zacharias, lived in the same town as Hans Lippershey in Holland. Hans and Zacharias owned a father and son spectacle shop, and thus their introduction to the world of microscopy. There’s historical evidence that both Janssen and Lippershey had claims to the invention of the microscope. Historians have found that it was actually Lippershey that filed the original patent for the microscope.
But the question isn’t “who filed the patent for the microscope,” we want to know who invented it first. This is where a letter from Dutch diplomat William Boreel suggests that it might have actually been Hans and Zacharias Janssen that beat Lippershey to the punch.
In his letters to the physician of the French king, he described the Janssens’ invention and found out about their work through direct contact with Hans and Zacharias. The letter predated the patent Lippershey originally filled. This seems to suggest that the Janssen duo was working on the invention for quite some time.
So, can we conclusively say that one was the true inventor of the microscope? Well, we don’t have conclusive evidence one way or the other. A more accurate way to describe this scenario would be to say that the Janssens were likely working on the microscope or similar technology first, and Lippershey was the first to file a formal patent for the device.
Regardless of who invented the microscope first, both families made significant contributions to science and paved the way for discovery of an entirely new world. To this day, you can see one of the original Janssen microscopes in a museum in Middleburg. The device dates all the way back to 1595! Their design was improved by Galileo Galileo in 1609, and as they say, the rest is history.
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