A Brief History of Microscopy

  • Theodore George Rochow
  • Eugene George Rochow


All kinds of microscopy have a common beginning in mankind’s intellectual goal to see better. Visible light was the first medium and visibility was limited to that of the unaided eye. During the first century A.D. it was discovered(1) that by looking through a clear spherical flask filled with clear water “letters however small and dim are comparatively large and distinct.”(2) These are the words of Seneca as an old man in about 60 A.D. During the next dozen centuries spherical segments of clear minerals were set in frames as eyeglasses to help older people see better. In about the year 1300 clear silicate glass was being made in Italy, and superstition against its use in eyeglasses for far-sightedness was overcome.(3–5) By the sixteenth century concave lenses were also for sale to help near-sighted people. The availability of both convex and concave lenses led the Dutch to the empirical combination of the two as a crude compound microscope. Just who invented the Dutch microscope is still not known. Contemporary witnesses attributed the construction around 1590 to Zacharias Janssen(6) but a modern study (1967)(7) reveals that he was born in 1588! Possibly his father, Hans Janssen (who died in 1593), or John Lippershey, or James Metius(6) first evolved the combination of two lenses.


Scanning Acoustic Microscope Lanthanum Hexaboride Concave Lens Experimental Scan Electron Microscope Empirical Combination 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1978

Authors and Affiliations

  • Theodore George Rochow
    • 1
  • Eugene George Rochow
    • 2
  1. 1.North Carolina State University at RaleighRaleighUSA
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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