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History of the Microscope and Cell Theory

Mr. C. Frittenburg

During the 1st century AD (year 100), glass had been

invented and the Romans were looking through the
glass and testing it.

Magnifiers and "burning glasses" or "magnifying

glasses" are mentioned in the writings of Seneca and
Pliny the Elder, Roman philosophers during the first
century A. D.
In the 13th century lenses are beginning to be
used in spectacles.

First recorded reference is made to eyeglasses

from English friar and philosopher, Roger
Bacon (1214?-1294).
The earliest simple microscope was merely a tube with
a plate for the object at one end and, at the other, a
lens which gave a magnification less than ten diameters
-- ten times the actual size.

Hans and Zacharias Janssen are given credit as the

inventors of the first compound microscope.

The first compound microscopes produced by the

Janssen's was simply a tube with lenses at each end.
The magnification of these early scopes ranged from 3X
to 9X, depending on the size of the diaphragm
Robert Hooke (1635-1703), an English scientist,
improved on early compound microscopes around 1660.

In Micrographia (1665), he coined the word cell to

describe the features of plant tissue (cork from the
bark of an oak tree) he was able to discover under the

The compartments he observed in the plant tissue

appeared like little compartments, or “cells”
Hooke’s book, Micrographia, was a series of
observations made with the aid of magnifying lenses;
some of these on very small things, such as his famous
drawing of the flea and tree bark lining
Antony van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723)is widely
credited to be “the father of 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. Antony van Leeuwenhoek. Letter
of June 12, 1716
Leeuwenhoek came from a family of tradesmen, had no
fortune, received no higher education or university
degrees, and knew no languages other than his native

In 1648 he was apprenticed as a fabric merchant and

learned to grind lenses in order to observe wools.

Inspired by Hooke’s Micrographia he began to use his

skill of grinding lenses to make compound microscopes
that could magnify up to 300x.

Leeuwenhoek was the first to see and describe bacteria

(1674), yeast plants, the life in a drop of water, and the
circulation of blood corpuscles in capillaries.

"No more pleasant sight has met my eye than this of

so many thousands of living creatures in one small
drop of water..." - Stated after his discovery of the
microscopic world over three centuries ago.
German botanist, Matthias Schleiden (1804-1881)
building upon Leeuwenhoek’s research, began to
develop what we now know as the “cell theory”.

In 1838 he recorded that, “all plants are made of cells”.

Schleiden’s colleague, German physiologist Theodor
Schwann (1810-1882) also contributed to cell theory in
1839 by recording that, “all animals are made of cells”.

In 1839 he also recorded, “all living things are

composed of cells and cell products”.
German botanist Alexander Braun (1805-1877) made
the very important contribution to cell theory and
observed that “the cell is the basic unit of life” in 1845.
German physiologist Rudolph Virchow made many great
contributions to the medical world and is also the man
responsible for discovering that "every cell originates
from another cell“.

Virchow founded the medical disciplines of cellular

pathology , comparative pathology (comparison of
diseases common to humans and animals) and
Currently microscope capabilities have become almost

Magnifying well over 1000x.


Science Power 9, Atlantic Edition