A History of the Magnifying Glass

It’s hard to overstate the impact that the seemingly simple invention of the magnifying glass had on humanity. This magical tool has helped a lot to the advancement of the modern invention history.

The first magnifying glass had been adapted for use as glasses , and it’s easy to see why it was so popular. In a time when glasses were reserved mostly for the old and near-sighted, magnifying lenses let everyone see tiny things in perfect clarity.

It’s easy to take that ability for granted today with nearly 70% of people in developed countries wearing corrective lenses of some sort. But before magnifying glasses became an everyday part of life, they had to go through a few changes.

Prior to the invention of glasses, when your vision started to fade with age, there ware no way to see things same again. Similarly, those born with less than perfect vision had little recourse. These problems were solved by the eyeglasses that came as a result of the invention of the magnifying glass.

The History

History of Inventing Magnifying Glass is one of the most ancient optical devices known to science that related to eye. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most ancient optical tools that humans have been using for a long time.

Modern magnifying glass was created in mid of 1200s. But the history of using this amazing tool is started even much before than that.

Thousands of years ago Egyptians used chips of crystal or a shiny stone to get a better view of small objects. This is the start of using magnifying glass for the very first time.

Most of the early experiments with lenses were in fact attempts to produce a better reading aid. Some would say that they merely ended up creating an optical toy, but any new invention is bound to be looked upon as something of a novelty at first.

After few decades into the common era in Rome, Emperor Nero (A.D. 37, Italy – 68, Italy) join to the race with ancient Egyptians by looking through glass or stones. He used to get a better view of some actress from a distance by looking through a gemstone.

Roman emperor Nero (A.D. 37, Italy – 68, Italy)

The earliest explicit written evidence of a magnifying device is a joke in Aristophanes the Clouds from 424 BC. It contains a joke made by Socrates that instead of looking at the vault of the heavens, he focuses his attention on Hippocleides, standing nearby, who “has bushy eye-lids”, and thus cannot see anything close by unless he holds it at arm’s length.

Who Invented Magnifying Glass?

Though humans have been using stones and crystal shards as magnifying lenses for millennia, it wasn’t until the discovery of magic that we were able to create actual magical magnification lenses.

A University of oxford lecturer Roger Bacon invented magnifying glass on 1250s, though the exact date isn’t known. However, in 1268, for the first time its use is mentioned, when the magnifying lens was adapted to be used as primitive eyeglasses.

Roger Bacon (1220, UK – 1292, UK) was a philosopher who conducted a wide range of experiments with lenses and mirrors. As a result of his experiments, he concluded that the eye is not an accurate judge of visual truth.

Roger Bacon (1220, UK – 1292, UK)

He also reasoned that what you see is not always what you get – what you see may be true only at the surface. Bacon was right on both counts. He decided that it’s important to examine what you are seeing beyond what your eyes and brain tell you.

He lived and studied at Oxford and in Paris during a time of extensive debate regarding theology and natural-science studies.

Though Bacon worked and published in many scientific areas, his most significant research and experimental contributions were those regarding lenses and their unique qualities such as reflection and refraction.

He was the first to advocate the use of a magnifying lens to improve reading and to hypothesize that strong lenses, such as what later became telescopes, might enable humans to see objects extremely farther away.

He originally designed his lenses to assist his older, farsighted colleagues so they could continue reading and therefore teaching at Oxford, because many were being forced out because of their poor eyesight.

Bacon drew on information published by Muslim scientists Ibn al-Haytham during his studies, which eventually helped him to create the first magnifying glass when he was experimenting with a spherical burning glass in his lab.

Ibn al-Haytham (965 AD, Iraq – 1040, Egypt) was the first person to describe how the eye works. He carried out experiments with reflective materials and proved that light enters the eye, rather than leaving it, as Greek scientists had believed.

Ibn al-Haytham (965 AD, Iraq – 1040, Egypt)

In The Book of Optics, published in 1021 CE, Ibn al-Haytham wrote: “If a smaller glass is placed inside a larger one and the sun’s rays are allowed to pass through both, they will coalesce at the focal point of the inner surface of the larger glass.”

He discovered that curved glass surfaces can be used for magnification. He also invented the first pin-hole camera after noticing the way light came through a hole in window shutters.


A lot of us still use magnifying glass in our everyday life but the wide range of benefit that magnifying glass has brought to this world is unimaginable.

Without this amazing invention of magnifying glass, our modern world wouldn’t be same as are seeing today. Nonetheless, many important innovation wouldn’t exist without the invention of magnifying glass.

From eyeglasses to microscope, our scientific progress would never have happened if it weren’t for the invention of magnifying glass.

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