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HISTORY OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

HANS LIPPERSHEY (1570 - 1619)

Hans Lippershey was born in Wesel, in western Germany but he moved to Middleburg in Zeeland, the Netherlands and became a Dutch citizen when he married in 1602. Lippershey was a lens and spectacle maker who is credited with the invention of the telescope. The story goes that his children were playing with some of the lenses in Lippershey’s shop when they noticed that, by putting two of the lenses close together and looking through them both, they could see a magnified weather vane on one of the buildings outside. Lippershey investigated this and discovered that by using one large convex lens combined with a concave lens, and placing them at either end of a tube, he could see objects up to four times their normal size.

Hans Lippershey

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It is very likely that the idea of using lenses to magnify objects had been thought of before, but Lippershey was the first person to apply for a patent on his invention. He called his invention the Kijker which means “looker” in Dutch. As it happened the patent was refused because it was too easy to make copies, but the Dutch Government paid him well for a few pairs of binoculars.

Galileo Galilei in Italy is often credited with the invention of the telescope but, in fact, after reading about Lippershey’s work he built from and improved on the Dutchman’s design. Galileo’s telescope magnified x20 and with it he was able to see the Moon’s craters, the stars in the Milky Way and the four largest moons of the planet Jupiter.

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