Anton Van Leeuwenhoek - Father of the Microscope

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Anton Van Leeuwenhoek (sometimes spelled Antonie or Antony) invented the first practical microscopes and used them to become the first person to see and describe bacteria, among other microscopic discoveries. 

Early Life of Anton Van Leeuwenhoek 

Van Leeuwenhoek was born in Hollan in 1632, and as a teenager became an apprentice at a line.-draper's shop. While it didn't seem a likely start to a life of science, it was here that Van Leeuwenhoek was set on a path to the invention of the microscope.

At the shop, magnifying glasses were used to count the threads in cloth. Anton van Leeuwenhoek was inspired by the glasses used by drapers to inspect the quality of cloth. He taught himself new methods for grinding and polishing tiny lenses of great curvature which gave magnifications up to 270x diameters, the finest known at that time.

Building the Microscope

These lenses led to the building of Anton Van Leeuwenhoek's microscopes, considered the first practical ones. They bore little resemblance to today's microscopes, however: Van Leeuwenhoek's small (less than two inches long) microscopes were used by holding one's eye close to the tiny lens and looking at a sample suspended on a pin.

It was with these microscopes that he made the microbiological discoveries for which he is famous. Van Leeuwenhoek was the first to see and describe bacteria (1674), yeast plants, the teeming life in a drop of water, and the circulation of blood corpuscles in capillaries.

During a long life, he used his lenses to make pioneer studies on an extraordinary variety of things, both living and non-living, and reported his findings in over a hundred letters to the Royal Society of England and the French Academy. Like his contemporary Robert Hooke, he made some of the most important discoveries of early microscopy.

"My work, which I've done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof." - Anton Van Leeuwenhoek Letter of June 12, 1716

Just nine of Anton Van Leeuwenhoek's microscopes exist today. His instruments were made of gold and silver, and most were sold by his family after he died in 1723.