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Hans Lippershey

Hans Lippershey was a Dutch eyeglass maker who many historians believe was the inventor of the first telescope and is also sometimes credited with the invention of the compound microscope. Lippershey was born in Wesel, Germany and settled in the Netherlands, opening a spectacles shop in Middleburg.

One story relating to the development of the telescope involves Lippershey noticing two children playing with lenses in his shop. The children observed that when they looked through two lenses, a weather vane on a nearby church appeared to be larger and clearer. According to the story, Lippershey tried it himself and realized the amazing possibilities. He then placed a tube between the lenses to make a telescope. Lippershey called his invention a "kijker", meaning "looker" in Dutch and in 1608, applied for a patent with the Belgian government. Even though he was paid very well for his invention, a patent was not granted because it was felt that the simple device could not be kept a secret.

There still is some uncertainty, however, about who actually was the first to invent the telescope, as there have been stories of a "magical" telescopic device dating as early as the sixteenth century. Moreover, some historians believe that Giambattista della Porta of Naples discovered the telescopic properties of lenses in 1589 and even Galileo Galilei has been credited with inventing the telescope. Yet, many historians agree that Galileo was most likely aware of Lippershey's invention before he developed his own. Furthermore, Lippershey is, at least, generally considered the first person to describe a telescope in writing.

Lippershey's role in the invention of the compound microscope is even more questionable. At least two other Dutch spectacle makers, Hans and Zacharias Janssen, made similar devices about the same time as Lippershey. In fact, the Dutch diplomat William Boreel, who was apparently an acquaintance of all three in Middleburg during his youth, claimed that Lippershey stole his ideas from the Janssens. Scholars generally argue, however, that Boreel was only being overzealous in his support of the Janssens and that there is no real evidence that Lippershey did not develop his work independently.


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