Why Were Binoculars Invented

  • By: Michaela King

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 the human eye.

Binoculars are indeed a marvelous 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 about how and why were binoculars invented?

Who was the first person who thought of creating binoculars? For what purpose they were used? How have 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 binoculars 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 the 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 sorts of spy glasses available in the market. But he was surely responsible for making binoculars known worldwide.

Also read: Different types of binoculars and their purposes

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 a magnification of 30x.

Statue of Galileo
Galileo – Courtesy Juan Martin Lopez

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 the first-ever telescope which later laid the basis for modern binoculars.

Galileo used the optical objective (lenses or mirrors) 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 development and that is why most historians consider Galileo the inventor of the telescope.

Later, the curved lens became famous as the Galilean lens but the field of view of the 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.

Binoculars evolution

Binoculars 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 the 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 improvements in the field of binoculars.

Although roof prism was invented somewhere around the 19th century it became common in the market by the 1980s when different manufacturers started to use them in 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 it’s 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 they have indeed done a great favor to common people.


What did people use before Binoculars?

Before binoculars were invented, people used telescopes to observe distant objects. These telescopes could be large and cumbersome, often requiring a tripod to remain steady and pointed in the right direction. Additionally, they were limited in the detail they could provide, often blurring objects that were too far away to be seen clearly.

Other methods of observation used by people in the past included the unaided eye, spyglasses, and opera glasses. Spyglasses could enable magnification of distant objects, although they could still only provide limited detail. Opera glasses were a type of handheld telescope that could provide a bit more detail than spyglasses, but they were still limited in the amount of magnification they could offer.

What is the purpose of Binoculars?

Binoculars are optical instruments used to magnify distant objects. They are typically used for activities such as bird watching, hunting, and sightseeing. Binoculars are also commonly used in the military and law enforcement for surveillance.

Why are Binoculars called “Binoculars”?

Binoculars are called binoculars because they have two lenses, or “bino”, and two eyepieces, or “culars”. The name is derived from the Latin word binoculus, which means “having two eyes”.

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