Leeuwenhoek, Antoni van

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b. 24 October 1632 Delft, Netherlands
d. 1723 Delft, Netherlands
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Dutch pioneer of microscopy.
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He was the son of a basketmaker, Philip Tonisz Leeuwenhoek, and Grietje Jacobsdr van den Berch, a brewer's daughter. After the death of his father in 1637, his mother married the painter Jacob Jansz Molijn. He went to school at Warmond and, later to an uncle who was Sheriff of Benthuizen. In 1648 he went to Amsterdam, where he was placed in a linen-draper's shop owned by William Davidson, a Scottish merchant. In 1652 or 1653 he moved back to Delft, where in 1654 he married the daughter of a cloth-merchant, Barbara de Mey. They had five children, only one of whom survived (born 22 September 1656). At about this time he bought a house and shop in the Hippolytus buurt and set up in business as a draper and haberdasher. His wife died in 1666 and in 1671 he married Cornelia Swalmius, a Reformed Church minister's daughter. Lacking self-confidence and not knowing Latin, the scientific language of the day, he was reluctant to publish the results of his investigations into a multitude of natural objects. His observations were made with single-lens microscopes made by himself. (He made at least 387 microscopes with magnifications of between 30x and 266x.) Among the subjects he studied were the optic nerve of a cow, textile fibres, plant seeds, a spark from a tinderbox, the anatomy of mites and insects' blood corpuscles, semen and spermatozoa. It was the physician Reinier de Graaf who put him in touch with the Royal Society in London, with whom he corresponded for fifty years from 1673. One of his last letters, in 1723, to the Royal Society was about the histology of the rare disease of the diaphragm that he had studied in sheep and oxen and from which he died. In public service he was a chamberlain to the sheriffs of Delft, a surveyor and a wine-gauger, offices which together gave him an income of about 800 florins a year. Leeuwenhoek never wrote a book, but collections were published in Latin and in Dutch from his scientific letters, which numbered more than 250.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS 1680.
Further Reading
L.C.Palm and H.A.M.Snelders, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek 1632–1723: Studies in the Life and Work of the Delft Scientist, Commemorating the 350th Anniversary of his Birthday.
B.Bracegirdle (ed.), Beads of Glass: Leeuwenhoek and the Early Microscope. (Catalogue of an exhibition in the Museum Boerhaave, November 1982 to May 1983, and in the Science Museum, May to October 1983).
IMcN

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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