Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek (1635-1723) was a Dutch tradesman who became interested in microscopy while on a visit to London in 1666. Returning home, he began making simple microscopes of the sort that Robert Hooke had described in his, Micrographia, and using them to discover objects invisible to the naked eye.
In 1886, John Mayall, a prominent English microscopist, made drawings of an original Leeuwenhoek microscope that belonged to the Zoological Laboratories at the University of Utrecht, and that a Dutch professor had brought to London. Replicas followed soon thereafter. The Smithsonian’s example is a replica of a Mayall replica.
This microscope is attached to a glass tube suitable for holding an aquatic creature. Leeuwenhoek described an apparatus of this sort in a letter that he wrote to the Royal Society of London in January 1689, explaining that he had used it to view the circulation of blood in the tail of an eel; this letter was printed in Dutch and Latin, but not in the Philosophical Transactions. And he probably used a similar set-up in 1698 when he demonstrated this phenomenon to Peter the Great, the Russian Tsar then passing by his home in Delft.
Ref: J. Mayall, “Leeuwenhoek’s Microscopes,” Journal of the Royal Microscopical Society 6 (1886): 1047-1049.
J. van Zuylen, “The Microscopes of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek,” Journal of Microscopy 121 (1981): 309-328.
Clifford Dobell, Antony van Leeuwenhoek and His “Little Animals” (New York, 1958), pp. 55-56, 332-333.
Currently not on view
Object Name
overall: 1 1/4 in x 2 in x 6 1/8 in; 3.175 cm x 5.08 cm x 15.5575 cm
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catalog number
accession number
Science & Scientific Instruments
Science & Mathematics
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Medicine and Science: Medicine
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
Credit Line
Mr. Frederik J. Spruyt
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