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Microscopy Pioneers


Carl Zeiss, Ernst Abbe, and Advances in the Light Microscope


Wolfgang Wimmer Corporate Archives , Carl Zeiss AG , Carl-Zeiss-Promenade 10 , 07745 Jena , Germany wolfgang.wimmer@zeiss.com


Carl Zeiss was born in Weimar on September 11, 1816. His mother’s name was Friederike (1786–1856), née Schmith ( Figure 1 ). His father August Zeiss (1785–1849) was a respected artistic wood turner who turned mother-of-pearl, amber, ivory, and other raw materials into luxury goods and toys. Carl attended the local grammar school. He was interested in technical things from an early age and attended lessons at the Grand Duchy’s vocational college in Weimar during his school days before deciding to become a mechanic [ 1 ].


To achieve this goal he went to Jena where, at Easter 1834, he began an apprenticeship under


Figure 1 : Carl Zeiss aged 50, 1866 (ZEISS archives).


Dr. Friedrich Körner, court mechanic and private lecturer at the University of Jena (1778–1847). From the second year of his apprenticeship onward, he attended lectures on mathematics and the natural sciences at the university. Aſt er completing his appren- ticeship, Carl Zeiss initially devoted his attention to mechanical engineering. From 1838 to 1845 he became a traveling tradesman, and his journeys took him to such destinations as Stuttgart, Darmstadt, and Berlin. He returned to Jena in 1845. Biologist Matthias Schleiden (1804–1881) had been working in Jena since 1839 ( Figure 2 ). He was one of the developers of the cell theory, which states that all life is made up of cells. T is theory turned the microscope into an indispensable tool for biologists, physicians, and hygienists. T e need for such instru- ments in research and teaching, but also for doctors’ surgeries and in the food industry, would henceforth grow steadily. T e fi rst chapter of Schleiden’s popular work Die Pfl anze


und ihr Leben , published in several editions aſt er 1848, was titled Das Auge und das Mikroskop . In it, Schleiden delves into the signifi cance of the microscope for biology: “T e microscope is the necessary instrument without which the botanist can expect to make no advances in his scientifi c endeavors.” Further on, he states, “Our century was destined to make use of the possibil- ities aff orded by the microscope in the study of nature, and it is very pleasing to see how the application of this instrument opens ever more doors and how, in ever larger circles, yields


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the most interesting results.” Also: “... how scientifi c processing in botany … is almost unfathomable without the consistent use of a microscope” [ 2 ]. In 1845 he jointly established the Physiological Institute with mineralogist Ernst Erhard Schmid (1815–1885, professor since 1843). T ey intended to teach students skills such as how to work with a microscope. Schleiden contradicted the view that microscopic investi- gations required very expensive instruments. “In terms of the greatest advancements in optical technology, one is able to procure very workable instruments at relatively low prices from any reasonably adroit lensmaker and no one, not even the youngest of our contemporaries, will live to see the day when one such instrument can no longer be used to do anything to further the cause of science” [ 3 ]. Here he is referring to Friedrich Körner, the erstwhile employer of Carl Zeiss. Körner began producing telescopes and other optical instruments early on. He even conducted his own tests for producing optical glass. He therefore found himself following in the footsteps of Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787–1826), even if he was less successful. Schleiden then urged him to construct simple microscopes with magnifying lenses. T ese instruments featured a magnifying system that was composed of a single lens, rather than an objective lens and an eyepiece. Schleiden wrote this in his 1845 textbook: “I would like to draw your attention in particular to the pocket microscopes now being produced by Dr. Körner in Jena. … T is instrument is perfectly suffi cient for all entomological, pharmacognostic and botanical investigations, and even for wholly adequate anatomical observations ... At my instigation, Dr. Körner always keeps a number of these fi nished instruments in stock, and I believe I can recommend them, and certainly with a clean conscience, to all of those who are enamored by proper natural science studies, as I myself inspect each individual instrument before it leaves the workshop, and can say that it certainly deserves its excellent reputation” [ 3 ]. Having returned to Jena in 1845, Carl Zeiss began attending events at the Physiological Institute. Before he established a


Figure 2 : Matthias Jakob Schleiden from the book Studien: Populäre Vorträge , 1855.


doi: 10.1017/S155192951700058X www.microscopy-today.com • 2017 July


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