As humans, we have always been fascinated by things that are distant and hard to see. With the invention of the telescope and then binoculars, nothing remains unseen to a human eye.
Binoculars are indeed a marvellous discovery in the field of optics because they are cheap and available easily so everyone can have a detailed view of their desired objects.
But have you thought how and why were binoculars invented?
Who was the first person who thought of creating the binoculars? For what purpose they were used? How they evolved with time?
In this article, I am going to walk you through the binoculars history timeline and we are going to solve this mystery together.
History of Binoculars
There is a lot of confusion when it comes to the history of binoculars, which is why it’s hard to credit any one person in regard to the binocular’s invention.
Likewise, we cannot establish the exact time when binoculars were invented because the process of lens development is rather ancient.
Who invented binoculars?
Hans Lippershey, an experienced glassmaker from Holland is usually credited with the invention of binoculars. He accidentally discovered the fact that when the concave lens and a convex lens are conjoined, distant objects appear to be magnified.
Why were binoculars invented?
In 1608, Hans presented his invention to the state assembly of Netherlands and seek a patent for his discovery. Army already demanded to be provided with telescopes to be able to observe enemy troops movement.
When Lippershey came forward with the idea of telescope cum binoculars, the assembly asked him to create a device suitable for both eyes for the military.
Lippershey set on to make binoculars and he did create them by mounting two telescopes side by side but the resolution and field of view were poor so the experiment was not very successful.
Lippershey was not granted the patent rights based on the fact that there were already different sort of spy glasses available in the market. But he was surely responsible for making binoculars known worldwide.
Development of telescopes
One year later in 1609, Italian astronomer Galileo started to work on the development of telescopes. He initially developed 100 telescopes with the magnification of 30x.
In fact, he was the first to observe the craters of the moon, four moons of Jupiter and other remote celestial objects. That’s how Galileo invented first ever telescope which later laid the basis for modern binoculars.
Galileo used the optical objective (lenses or mirror) that was curved and could gather more light. An inverted eyepiece was used in the Galilean design which produces an image that was right side up.
This, along with good magnification was indeed a great breakthrough in binocular’s development and that is why most historians consider Galileo the inventor of the telescope.
Later, the curved lens became famous as Galilean lenses but the field of view of Galilean design telescope was very small and image quality wasn’t very high either.
In the 18th century, people started using the Galilean design for opera glasses. Although magnification was poor it didn’t matter much because the users only wished to see the performers on the stage.
Binocular truly revolutionized when in 1854 Italian optician Ignazio Porro developed and used prism system in binoculars. Because of Ignazio, Porro prism binoculars are now commonly used by everyone around the world.
Porro prism made binoculars compact as compared to previous models which were very bulky. It also enhanced image quality and brought binoculars within the reach of common people.
That is why some historians consider Ignazio Porro as the inventor of modern binoculars.
Read my in-depth article on the functions of prisms in binoculars.
After Porro prism, a lot of research was carried out by different inventors. German optician Carl Zeiss was deeply involved in optics and was working on developing better microscopes with his fellow inventors Ernest Abbe and Otto Schott.
Their prism system is known as the roof prism system which made further improvement in the field of binoculars.
Although roof prism was invented somewhere around the 19th century they became common in the market by 1980s when different manufacturers started to use them in the binoculars.
Binocular is indeed one of the greatest achievements of the human brain. While telescope was meant for astronomy, binoculars, on the other hand, are best for terrestrial viewing whether its bird watching, wildlife viewing, hunting and many more.
Even astronomers love using binoculars and many experienced stargazers swear by them.
We hope that you have enjoyed this journey of how and why were binoculars invented. Whoever invented binoculars, one thing is for sure that they have indeed done a great favour to common people.
An optics enthusiast – I love bird watching as well as wildlife. Originally from South Africa, I moved to the UK at a young age. I love reviewing the latest binoculars as well as traveling. I work as a comms consultant during the day. My plan is to travel across the world so building up to that goal.