It is difficult to say who has invented the first optical microscope. Lenses have been used to magnify images of small objects for many centuries, and the oldest known lens is 3000 years old. There are several different implementations of a lens, such as a magnifying glass or a loupe. The first microscope consisted of one single lens. However the combination of two (or more) lenses (what is known as a compound microscope) was first developed around 1595 in Middelburg, the Netherlands. Two Dutch spectacle-makers, direct competitors who lived almost next door to each other, Zacharias Jansen and Hans Lippershey, are often associated with the invention of the first compound optical microscope.
Another Dutchman often associated with the invention of the microscope is Antonie van Leeuwenhoek. This is not entirely accurate: in fact, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born 37 years after the invention of the first microscope. However, the popularization of the microscope and microscopy is van Leeuwenhoek’s achievement, and he is often called the “Father of Microbiology”. It is important to note that in spite of the fact that compound microscopes were already invented, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was using simple (one lens) microscopes. However his microscopes were of superior quality because of his unique technology of making lenses. It took more then 150 years of optical developments to make compound microscopes of the same quality.
Our Museum of Microscopy features historical microscopes of modern times, ranging from 1950-ies until 1980-ies, the years when the study of cells massively evolved from morphological observation to experimental manipulation. New research questions required new microscopy techniques, which were developed starting from high-end complicated home-made devices to mass production that made microscopy accessible to a broad scientific community. Our collection includes 29 different microscope models from 6 different companies.
The links below provide an overview of the main exposition. All microscope models are sorted by the company who produced them, with the short historical reviews.
Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht: Microscopen en Optica (Dutch only)
Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht: Fasecontrastmicroscoop van Caroline Bleeker (Dutch only)
Universiteitsmuseum Utrecht: Microscoop van Harting (Dutch only)