Biography of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek – Father of Microbiology

Known ForImprovements to the microscope, discovery of bacteria, discovery of sperm, descriptions of all manner of microscopic cell structures (plant and animal), yeasts, molds, and more
Also Known AsAntonie Van Leeuwenhoek, Antony Van Leeuwenhoek
BornOct. 24, 1632 in Delft, Holland
DiedAug. 30, 1723 in in Delft, Holland
EducationOnly basic education
Published Works“Arcana naturœ detecta,” 1695, a collection of his letters sent to the Royal Society of London, translated into Latin for the scientific community
AwardsMember of the Royal Society of London
Spouse(s)Barbara de Mey (m.1654–1666), Cornelia Swalmius (m. 1671–1694)
Notable Quote“My work…was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge.”

Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch scientist and businessman in the Golden Age of Dutch science and technology. He was a self-taught person in science, he’s popularly referred to by the title “the Father of Microbiology” and was among the pioneers of microscopists and microbiologists. Van Leeuwenhoek is best known for his groundbreaking work in microscopy , and his contribution to the development of microbiology as a science discipline.

Anton van Leeuwenhoek (October 24 1632 – August 30 1723) invented the first practical microscopes, and made use of them to become the first person to observe and describe bacteria, in addition to other microscopical discoveries. In fact, his work successfully disproved the theory spontaneous generation which was the belief that living organisms naturally emerge from nonliving material. His work have also led to advancement of the science of protozoology and bacteriology.


Early Life 

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was born on the 24th of October 1632 in the small city Delft within the Dutch Republic. His father was Philips Antonisz van Leuwenhoek who was a basket-maker. Her mother was Margaretha Bel van den Berch who was a wealthy family of beer brewers.

Antonie’s childhood was difficult: his father passed away at just the age of five. His mother was remarried and Antonie was able to live in the home of an aunt. The uncle practiced law, and assisted Antonie with literacy and numeracy. He also reinforced his education that he received at local schools. At the age of Antonie was 16 her stepfather had also passed away.


Antonie was not a language expert other that Dutch this suggests that the fact that he never had the opportunity to attend university and he would have required to study at minimum Latin in order to achieve this.


In 1648, aged of 16 years old, Leeuwenhoek was sent to the famous Dutch commercial city Amsterdam to work in a store for textiles. He was able to master his craft and was elevated to the job of bookkeeper and cashier.


In 1654, at the age of 21, he retreated to Delft and there it would be where he’d spend the rest of his life. It was a pivotal period for Leeuwenhoek. He not only returned to his home town and get married and put the business knowledge he gained in Amsterdam into action and opening his own store in Delft. Alongside cloth, the shop also sold ribbons, buttons and other accessories.

In the following years, Leeuwenhoek was a prominent persona in Delft. In 1660, at the age of 28, he was selected to oversee the operation of Delft’s council hall. In exchange for an insignificant amount of work – and the physical tasks of the job was assigned to other individuals He was also paid a generous compensation.


A man with many abilities, Leeuwenhoek was also appointed to oversee Delft’s wine business and collect the proper taxes on imported wine.

In the course of running his business as well as working in the municipality of Delft Leeuwenhoek grew into qualified as a land surveyor when he was approximately 40 years old and just prior to beginning his work in the field of science.


Contribution of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in Science

The Discovery of the Leeuwenhoek Lens

Leeuwenhoek’s scientific discoveries were totally depended on his abilities to design lenses of extraordinary high-quality.

He never revealed to anyone how he came up with his lenses. The secrets he kept with him into the tomb. In actual fact, in order to get opponents off his scent, he would discuss how he needed grind glass for a long time in order to create his lenses. It was probably not the case.


Glass Pearls

The trade in textiles used for hundreds of years utilized glass pearls – tiny glass spheres – as lenses to study cloth is great in fine. Leeuwenhoek employed glass pearls regularly in his daily business activities to determine the thickness of threads as well as the quality of the cloth.


In 1665, the legendary English science guru Robert Hooke released Micrographia, showing drawings he’d made depicting the nature viewed through the lens of his microscope.

Leeuwenhoek was in England in 1668, and likely encountered a copy Micrographia which was the first science-based bestseller. Significantly for Leeuwenhoek the book contained sketches Hooke had drawn from his microscopic inspections of cloth.

Micrographia provides a description of what a powerful and effective microscope can be created using only one spherical lens similar to glass pearls Leeuwenhoek was familiar with:

“…if you take a very clear piece of a broken Venice Glass, and in a lamp draw it out into very small hairs or threads, then holding the ends of these threads in the flame, till they melt and run into a small round globule, or drop, which will hang at the end of the thread; and if further you stick several of these upon the end of a stick with a little sealing wax, so as that the threads stand upwards, and then… grind off a good part of them, and afterward on a smooth metal plate, with a little tripoly, rub them till they come to be very smooth; if one of these be fixed with a little soft wax against a small needle hole, pricked through a thin plate of brass, lead, pewter, or any other metal, and an object, placed very near, be looked at through it, it will both magnify and make some objects more distinct then any of the great microscopes.”

(In that days, people often wrote very long sentences, indeed!)

It is not clear if Leeuwenhoek knew Hooke’s phrases as He was unable to understand English. It is believed that he employed Hooke’s method to create his lenses.

Hooke himself didn’t use lenses produced by this method, as they were uncomfortable as Distance between lens and visible object was required to be extremely small and the eye of the viewer was required to be pulled extremely close to the lens. This caused Hooke’s eyes to get stretched.

Hooke made use of an encapsulated microscope (one with two lenses) that was more like the microscopes we have today.

Lens Making

Leeuwenhoek However, he was extremely happy to utilize small, spherical lens to create single-lens microscopes. He kept the exact details of the manufacturing process for his lenses secret, however now we can be fairly certain that he used these things:

  • made use of a hot flame to heat the middle of an iron rod until it melts
  • They pulled the rod’s ends into opposite directions creating the long, thin thread of glass that was molten
  • Continued pulling the ends, while the thread molten in middle became thinner and thinner until it was breaking
  • The thread ends in the flame again, which resulted in the end of the thread being a small glass globe

This lens was an ocular that could have required polishing. A smaller sphere, more magnificence.

When he first started creating lens, Leeuwenhoek might have wanted to make use of them to study fabrics more thoroughly than any other person had before.

In the next few months, however he was struck by the same desire like Hooke to look at natural objects in unimaginable detail.

Leeuwenhoek’s Microscopes

Microscopes made of Leeuwenhoek’s tiny lens spherical The tiniest lenses – measuring only 1 millimeter across – were equipped to magnify objects with a ratio of between 200 and 300, whereas Hooke’s compound microscope magnified by a factor of around 40-50.

It was remarkable that Leeuwenhoek could utilize his lenses to see the smallest details of 1.35 millimeters. (This means that for instance Leeuwenhoek could clearly detect red blood cells, that are usually 6 to 8 millimeters wide.)

A replica of a microscope by van Leeuwenhoek
A replica of a microscope by van Leeuwenhoek

Leeuwenhoek’s Art of Microscopy

The only thing that isn’t known the present day is what method Leeuwenhoek illuminated the objects the he was studying. This was an essential element of his distinctive method of microscopy. Another important aspect was his unparalleled skill in preparing the microscope to view:

  • drops of liquid, like blood or pond water, or
  • Solid samples, like animal or plant materials that are cleanly cut by the help of a sharp blade into thin pieces, translucent enough that light can pass through them so that their features can be drawn and observed.

Leeuwenhoek created more than 500 microscopes in his life. They were uncomfortable to use and difficult to use that’s why we employ compound microscopes. However, under Leeuwenhoek’s skilled hands, they showed an entirely new world of biology.

The Microscopic World Discovered by Leeuwenhoek

Leeuwenhoek was a skilled tradesman. He had no formal education in science, and had not gone to university.

However, the caliber of his observations was superior and his findings were so compelling that his work was widely known through his letters to Royal Society in London. They were then translated into English and published in the Royal journal of the Society, Philosophical Transactions.

It is interesting to note that the majority of Leeuwenhoek’s correspondence was first read in the hands of Robert Hooke, who was the Curator of Experiments and later the secretary of the Society. Hooke actually studied Dutch so that he could read Leeuwenhoek’s correspondence for himself.

Leeuwenhoek’s first written communication came in 1673. He reconstructed some of the works Hooke had described in Micrographia which included Leeuwenhoek’s precise sketches of bee stings the fungus, as well as louse of the human kind.

The year after, Leeuwenhoek began to write about the amazing new discoveries he’d made.

Discoveries of Leeuwenhoek

Single-Celled Life

In 1674, when he was 41 years old, Leeuwenhoek was the one to make his first most important discoveries the single-celled life forms. These organisms are now grouped with protists, which are mostly single-celled plants and animals. As if to confirm the initial doubt Hooke’s Micrographia had encountered, a lot of people in the Royal Society refused to believe that Leeuwenhoek’s tiny creatures. They waited until the year 1677 before they were recognized as fact. This was when Robert Hooke returned to his microscopes that he had abandoned due to eye strain. He also confirmed Leeuwenhoek’s findings.

The Shape and Size of Red Blood Cells

In 1674, Leeuwenhoek studied the red blood cells that were discovered six years prior by a friend and fellow Dutchman, Jan Swammerdam. Thanks to his improved lenses, Leeuwenhoek was able to provide a more precise description of the cells than he had ever before in history. He was also the first to measure their size accurately.


In 1676, Leeuwenhoek discovered that there were bacteria in water. The bacteria were near the limits of what he could observe with his microscope. He estimated that it would require over 10,000 to cover the area of one grains of sand. It was such a brilliant aspect of his work that no one has ever seen bacteria until another century was over.


In 1677, Leeuwenhoek discovered spermatozoa and concluding later that eggs can be fertilized when they are accessed by sperm.

“…I observed certain animalcules, within whole bodies I saw so quick a motion as to exceed belief; they were about the size of a large grain of sand, and their bodies being transparent, that the internal motion could plainly be seen. Among other things, I saw in the body of one of these animalcules a bright and round corpuscle, placed near the head, and in which a very wonderful swift motion was to be seen, consisting of an alternate extension and contraction. This particle I concluded to be the heart…”

Lymphatic Capillaries

In 1683, Leeuwenhoek discovered lymphatic capillaries that were a reservoir of “a white fluid, like milk.”

Even More Discoveries

By studying the life cycles of both fleas and maggots Leeuwenhoek showed that these animals do not arise spontaneously, like many believed in the past. He explained that the creatures have a cycle of reproduction, from eggs to maggots , then pupae to adults.

Through dissecting aphids, he observed parthenogenesis. He discovered aphids from the parents that contained embryos of new aphids however, the eggs were not fertilized.

In observing the flow blood through tiny capillaries, Leeuwenhoek verified William Harvey’s work on circulation of blood.

Leeuwenhoek’s View on His Work

Similar to his fellow scientist Robert Hooke, Leeuwenhoek made some of the most significant discoveries in early microscopy. In a 1716 letter Leeuwenhoek wrote:

“My work, which I’ve done for a long time, was not pursued in order to gain the praise I now enjoy, but chiefly from a craving after knowledge, which I notice resides in me more than in most other men. And therewithal, whenever I found out anything remarkable, I have thought it my duty to put down my discovery on paper, so that all ingenious people might be informed thereof.”

He did not make editorializations on what he observed and admitted that he wasn’t scientist but an observer. Leeuwenhoek wasn’t an artist however he did collaborate with a sketcher on the drawings he included in his letter.


Van Leeuwenhoek also contributed to the field of science in another way. In the last year of his existence, He wrote about the illness that claimed his life. Van Leeuwenhoek suffered from uncontrollable diaphragm contractions, the condition that is now known as Van Leeuwenhoek disease. He died from the condition, which is also known as diaphragmatic Flutter, on the evening of August 30, 1723 in Delft. He was buried at Delft’s Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Delft.


A few of Leeuwenhoek’s discoveries were able to be verified by other scientists, however certain discoveries were not able to be verified because his lenses were superior to microscopes of other scientists and other equipment. Certain people needed to go to him in order to observe the work he was doing in his own presence.

Only 11 of Leeuwenhoek’s 500 microscopes are still in use in the present. The instruments he used were made out of silver and gold, and the majority were purchased by his family when his death in 1723. Scientists from other fields did not utilize his microscopes as they were difficult to make use of. A few improvements to the microscope took place in the 1730s but the big changes that lead to the present compound microscopes weren’t made until the end of the 19th century.

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