Like so many things that we take for granted today, binoculars were not invented as binoculars but required many ideas, flashes of inspiration and implementation in practical application by lots of clever people.
Who Invented Binoculars?
So there is no single person “who invented binoculars”. Throughout history, a number of scholars and engineers have made discoveries and inventions that have made modern binoculars possible. Let’s look at what it took to turn the first reading stones into the modern hand-held glasses.
Crystal Lenses In Ancient Egypt
Some of the earliest lenses can be found in old ancient Egyptian statues. The lenses are made of glass or polished quartz crystal and are apparently used for decorative purposes. These lenses are embedded in the anatomically correct represented eyes of many statues of the 4th and 5th dynasties.
The Arabic mathematician and astronomer Ibn al-Haytham (965-1039) – also known as Alhazen, describes the basics of geometric optics in his work “The Book of Optics“. Among other things, he describes in his work a hemispherical glass segment, with the help of which an object appears enlarged. Even though Alhazen thus laid the theoretical basis for what lenses should look like, there are no records that Alhazen has used the idea of the reading stone in practice.
It wasn’t until Vitello (1220-1280) translated Alhazen’s “Book of Optics” from Arabic to Latin. Monasteries maintained a lively exchange of knowledge and the work spread very quickly among the monks.
The Franciscan order, in particular, excelled in the spread of technology and knowledge. The Franciscan monk Roger Bacon applied essential findings on physical optics and believed that spherical segments made of glass were excellent tools for the visually impaired. It was probably primarily about enabling older monks to read the scriptures again.
First Lenses used in eyeglasses
It is difficult to say who really invented the first glasses. Roger Bacon has done important preliminary work and many books give him credit for inventing the magnifying glass.
From then on, progress was made quickly. Glasses were made in Venice as early as the 13th century. Many old frescoes and paintings from the 14th century show monks and scholars wearing glasses.
The economic benefits of glasses were quickly recognized. People who could see better were more productive in their professional lives and could participate better in daily life.
From the beginning of the 15th century, the wearing of glasses became common. The profession of spectacular maker came into being.
Early eyeglass frames were simply two magnifying glasses riveted together on the handles so that they could grip the nose. These are known as “rivet spectacles”.
From eyeglasses to Binoculars
In 1608, the Dutch lens grinder and spectacle maker Hans Lipperhey tried to obtain a patent for a device that could enlarge objects and make them appear closer for the viewer, with the help of optical lenses. He is considered to be one of the first to invent a kind of telescope as we know it today.
The news of the miraculous device Lipperhey invented quickly spread among the scholars of Europe.
A Galilean telescope is a very simple construction consisting of only one concave lens and one convex lens. The convex lens serves as an objective, the concave lens serves as an eyepiece lens. The lenses are located on both sides of a tube so that the focal point of the objective lens matches the focal point of the eyepiece lens.
A little later, in 1611, Johann Kepler, the great astronomer, describes a new telescope construction. It is known today as the Keplerian telescope. Its characteristic is the use of a convex lens as an eye lens instead of the concave lens used in Galilean binoculars. The eyepiece and objective are set up at the distance of their added focal lengths. The field of view is much wider than with the Galileo telescope.
Kepler’s telescopes produce an image rotated by 180 ° for the observer. It is upside down compared to the original and is reversed. When moving the telescope tube, the projected image moves in the opposite direction. This can be remedied with additional lenses or with prisms.
The Italian engineer and inventor Ignazio Porro is the inventor of the Porro prism that is used in monoculars, binoculars, and stereomicroscopes. The Porro prism, which was patented in 1854, made it possible to reverse the 180-degree reversal of the image projected in theKeplerian telescope so that the viewer sees an image that corresponds to reality. For this, he used two half-cube prisms, which are at 90 degrees to each other. Ignazio Porro built a monocular that, with the Porro prism he invented, provided the observer with upright correct images,
Carl Zeiss was a German scientific instrument maker, optician, and businessman who founded the Carl Zeiss workshop in Jena in 1846. The company is still in operation today as Carl Zeiss AG and are leaders in quality optical instruments.
Zeiss gathered some of the best engineering and theoretical opticians and glassmakers to redesign most aspects of optical instrument manufacturing. His collaboration with Ernst Abbe revolutionized the optical theory and practical design of binoculars and microscopes
Friedrich Otto Schott a German chemist, glass technologist and inventor of borosilicate glass founded in 1884 with Dr. Ernst Abbe and Carl Zeiss the Glass Technical Laboratory Schott & Associates in Jena. Together, they continued to research optical glass and developed types of glass with new and improved optical properties.
On July 9, 1893, the Carl Zeiss company applied for a patent for a type Porro prism binoculars. One could well say that they are the ones who invented binoculars, as most modern handheld binoculars that are available today have many similarities with this patent application from 1893.