Antonie van Leeuwenhoek – The Father of Microbiology

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek's microscopes by Henry Baker

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek‘s microscopes by Henry Baker

On October 24, 1632, the Dutch tradesman and scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope, was born. He is commonly known as “the Father of Microbiology“, and considered to be the first microbiologist.

“Please bear in mind that my observations and thoughts are the outcome of my own unaided impulse and curiosity alone; for, besides myself, in our town there be no philosophers who practice this art, so pray, take not amiss my poor pen and the liberty I here take in setting down my random notions.”
– Antonie van Leewenhoek

First Steps

That Van Leeuwenhoek made some of the most significant discoveries in the history of biology is rather surprising. Born in 1632, the son of a basket maker was not so fortunate to receive higher education or even a university degree. At the age of 16, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek began his apprenticeship with a cloth merchant in Amsterdam as bookkeeper and cashier. What the young Van Leeuwenhoek considered to be a quite miserable situation soon changed to be highly interesting. There he saw the first version of the microscope, a magnifying glass attached to a small stand, which was commonly used by cloth merchants of these days and it highly fascinated Van Leeuwenhoek. Some years later, in 1654 the business man opened his own drapery shop in Delft, but he would never lose the interest in glass processing and only about ten years later he already knew how to grind lenses and produce his first microscopes himself.

It must be noted, that microscopes with several lenses were used before Van Leeuwenhoek, but the quality was astonishingly bad which increased his motivation to built a microscope with just one perfect lens, which succeeded.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek (1632–1723)

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
(1632–1723)

The Professional Amateur

His first observations, which he performed in his free time were rather simple like measuring the numbers of microorganism in certain units of water. However, these kind of observations were almost unique to this point but still, the hobby-biologist was disregarded in the scientific community.

Eventually in the 1670’s, Van Leeuwenhoek got in touch with the Royal Society of London and was finally able to publish his observations, which instantly caused him to become famous in the scientific community and beyond. But the good times didn’t last so long. After presenting his results on single-celled organisms, the now well known scientist was again challenged because the existence of single-celled organisms wasn’t really clear at these times and Van Leeuwenhoek’s credibility initially shrank until his work was fully validated several years later.

Nevertheless, the ‘amateur’ which he was regarded as sent almost 600 letters to the Royal Society throughout his whole life about his investigations. He was able to produce 500 high quality lenses and at least 25 microscopes of different types. One was even capable to magnify up to 500 times and with it he was able to majorly contribute to the new scientific field of microbiology. He for instance discovered the infusoria, bacteria, a cell’s vacuole and spermatozoa. About the last discovery there were several serious troubles Van Leeuwenhoek had to face with theologists.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek really deserves the name ‘Father of Microbiology’ due to his many groundbreaking observations and his efforts on building microscopes. He always kept his creation of the lenses as a secret and it could not be revealed until the 1950’s.

At yovisto academic video search you can enjoy a video about Anton van Leeuwenhoek and his achievements.

References and Further Reading:

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