Still going strong: Leeuwenhoek at eighty

Abstract

At age 80, Antony van Leeuwenhoek was a world-famous scientist who came from a prosperous Delft family with a heritage of public service. He continued that tradition by serving in paid municipal offices. Self-taught, he began his scientific career in his 40s, when he began making hundreds of tiny single-lens microscopes. Pioneering the use of now-common microscopic techniques, he was the first human to see microbes and microscopic structures in animals, plants, and minerals. Over 50 years, he wrote only letters, more than 300 of them, and published half of them himself. More than a hundred were published in translation in the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions. Today, Leeuwenhoek is considered in the lesser rank of scientists and is not well known outside of his homeland. Recent archival research in Delft has contributed new information about his life that helps to contextualize his science, but much remains to be learned.

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Acknowledgments

I would like to thank the archivists of Delft City Archive and especially Dr. Lesley Robertson of Delft University of Technology for their assistance.

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Correspondence to Douglas Anderson.

Additional information

The spelling of Leeuwenhoek’s first and last names in this article conforms to the spelling in Dobell’s standard English biography. The reference to his family name without the “van” conforms to the biographies of Dobell and Schierbeek, both the original Dutch and the English translation, as well as the publications of many other writers in English, including Ford and Ruestow.

Electronic supplementary material

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Google Books Ngram of mentions of Leeuwenhoek and Vermeer in English-language publications (TIFF 799 kb)

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Google Books Ngram of mentions of 17th century microscopists in English-language publications (TIFF 804 kb)

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Google Books Ngram of mentions of Leeuwenhoek and other important scientists in English-language publications (TIFF 907 kb)

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Anderson, D. Still going strong: Leeuwenhoek at eighty. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 106, 3–26 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10482-014-0152-1

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Keywords

  • Antony van Leeuwenhoek
  • Heritage
  • Single-lens microscope
  • Microbes
  • Self-published letters
  • Science
  • Archives