100 Greatest Science Inventions of All Time

By Kendall Haven | Go to book overview

Telescope
Year of Invention: 1608 and 1609

What Is It? An optical device that uses concave and convex lenses to allow the
viewing of distant objects.

Who Invented It? Hans Lippershey (in the Netherlands) and Galileo Galilei
(in Florence, Italy)


Why Is This Invention One of the 100 Greatest?

The telescope brought the solar system, the galaxy, and the greater universe within our grasp. It radically changed who we, as a species, thought we were. The telescope shrank space and has forever changed our perspective of the size of our world, the space around it, and our place and purpose in the cosmos.

The telescope also helped give birth to modern science and made the field of astronomy possible. Telescopes turned specks in the night sky into spherical objects—into places rather than pinpricks of light.


History of the Invention

What Did People Do Before?

The general idea of using curved, transparent lenses to magnify distant objects was known by the eleventh century. Turkish and Moorish armies used simple telescopic devices during the late Crusades.

The necessary technology to build a telescope was readily available long before anyone thought of inventing one. High-quality, clear lenses were developed as early as 1290 by artisans in Venice, Italy. Eyeglasses (spectacles) soon followed, and spectacle makers became a common feature of every city by 1500. The microscope was invented in 1590. That device uses curved (convex) glass lenses to magnify close-up views of objects.


How Was the Telescope Invented?

Business was slow for Hans Lippershey, Dutch spectacle maker, in the spring of 1608. The Netherlands was in the midst of a prolonged rebellion against Spain. The Spanish navy blockaded Dutch ports. Merchandise and business had slowed to a trickle.

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