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Hans Lippershey

telescope maker

Hans Lippershey

Hans Lippershey was a German-born spectacle maker who lived in The Netherlands. One often-told story relates that a child playing in his shop one day lined up one lens with another in the window and, on looking through the two, noticed that distant objects came closer. The truth of this story is questionable, but there is no doubt that, in 1608, Lippershey submitted for sale to the government of The Netherlands an invention which consisted of a tube with one fixed lens and an eye lens that could be adjusted for focus. The potential military applications for this device were obvious and, after he had made a few modifications and produced a binocular version, the government paid him 900 florins for the device.

Although Lippershey's device was the first known example of a practical refracting telescope, his claims to being its sole inventor are still challenged to this day. In fact, The Netherlands government turned down Lippershey's request for a 30-year patent on the grounds that "many other persons had a knowledge of the invention." The truth is that the telescope had been evolving in fact and theory for the better part of 300 years, awaiting improvements in the manufacture of lenses for final perfection.

The significance of Lippershey's device is that it made practical use of an effect that had previously been regarded as little more than a lens grinder's parlor trick. The telescope also advanced the work of Galileo, who learned about it through French scientist Jacques Bovedere. Seeing its potential for advancing the science of astronomy, Bovedere passed on an account of the telescope to Galileo, who in turn reconstructed one according to his own calculations.

two of the telescopes Galileo constructed according to Lippershey's design


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This page was last updated on 05/25/2017.