The first (compound) microscopes were built in the end of the 16th Century by Zaccharias Janssen and his father Johannes. Both were fooling around with two lenses in a tube in the basement of their eyeglass workshop in Middleburg, Holland. They found out that they could improve the magnification if they assembled the lenses so that the distance between the lenses is smaller than the focal length of the stronger lens. Voilà!: The first compound microscope was built.
In the 17th Century, the best lenses of the world were being manufactured in Holland. For that reason, it''s no surprise that another Dutch man by the name of Anton Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) later became known as the ''father of microscopy''. He was the first person able to see and describe cells and micro-organisms. All with his self-made two-lens microscope.
Throughout the 17th Century, a huge science-occultism frenzy was sweeping through the upper classes of Europe1. A group of science freaks called Academia del Lincei
(one of the most notorious members being Galileo Galilei) was, obviously, playing with these new magnifying gizmos. However, they did not come up with any extraordinary contribution to the field of microscopy, except perhaps for the coining of the word ''microscope''.
Another science weirdo of his time was Englishman Robert Hooke, who was also caught by the microscopy fever. Hooke had the remarkable ability to improve every bit of science he laid hands on. In microscopy, he improved Leeuwenhoek''s design by adding a third lens behind the original two, which made the usage of microscopes a lot more comfortable.
The normal two-lens design required the viewer to look into the tube from a relatively long distance, which caused two problems: First the viewer had to aim very well and afterwards keep his head still. Second, the images of the 2-lens design were dim due to low brightness and contrast. The third lens improved the brightness and contrast problem and allowed a more comfortable (nearer) working distance. The modern microscope is still based upon Hooke''s three-lens design, in which the original three lenses are replaced by whole multi-lens and mirror arrays to improve even more the quality of the images.
The discoveries made by the early microscopists started to revolutionise the way people thought about life. The first two important books were published in 1660 by Italian Marcello Malpighi, who proved William Harvey''s blood circulation theories (by proving the existence of capillary blood vessels, which were until then unknown), and in 1665, Robert Hooke''s Micrographia
, where the word ''cell'' is used for the first time2. However, the common notion of the microcosm at that time was that it''s merely a miniaturised version of what we see in our macroscopic world. It took another while until the microscopic world got understood.