Who Invented the Compound Microscope


The true inventor of the compound microscope is actually up for debate. There are some who claim that Roger Bacon, who was a 13th century philosopher and friar. Others believe one of two popular eyeglass makers made the first microscope in the Netherlands because of their work in the region. Their names were Zacharias Janssen and Hans Lippershey, naming both telescopic inventions after them as well. What we do know is that one of these three men brought science to a new age, so let’s take a look at all 3 of them.

Roger Bacon: A Teacher Before His Time

There’s not a lot known about Roger Bacon’s earlier years beyond what he wrote down himself. He studied at Oxford and then became a master there, teaching about Aristotle. He moved to Paris and taught at the local university there as well for some time. At some point in time he transitioned into being a friar in the Franciscan Order. He was friends with the Pope, was jailed for placing too much faith in alchemy, and today is remembered as a man who tried to bring scientific light to the dark ages.

Hans Lippershey: Just a Little Late?

Born in Germany, Lippershey got married at the age of 24 and moved to the Netherlands. He established a shop where he could work as a master lens grinder and his first patent request was for a refracting telescope. The stories about how he came up with the additional magnification for the telescope are varied, from watching children play with two lenses in his shop to having his apprentice copy someone else’s discovery. For some time the invention was called a “Dutch Perspective Glass.” It is this work that leads some to believe that he also invented the microscope before his death just a decade later.

Zacharias Janssen: Is He the Real Inventor

Many give Janssen the full credit of being the first inventor of the compound microscope. He grew up in the Netherlands and was known in his early years as a street seller. Always in trouble, he took over a spectacle shop and began working on his craft. He was also accused of counterfeiting throughout his life, so he and his family were forced to move around quite a lot. He once lived next door to Lippershey and is associated with telescopic and microscopic inventions, but there is no concrete evidence about his actual development of these inventions. Some even believe that his son made all of the claims up to grab further fame and fortune for himself.

Will We Ever Know Who Really Invented the Compound Microscope?

Unless new evidence comes forth regarding this important invention in history, we’ll likely never know with 100% certainty whether Bacon, Lippershey, or Janssen or someone else is the true inventory of the compound microscope. What we do know is that this device has helped humanity discover much about the world where we live, has helped to prolong life, and whoever did invent the device is owed a great amount of gratitude by us all.

Anatomy of the Microscope