Nowadays, we use binoculars for a multitude of purposes, from watching sports events to birdwatching and hunting. If you need tips on how to select a high-quality model, you can find a complete review that might help you out online.
However, the history of this device is much more complex than first meets the eye. As historians have argued time and time again, it is very difficult to pinpoint who was the original inventor of the binoculars.
As archaeologists have shown, glass was first discovered in 3,500 BCE, by Phoenicians, yet, it took humankind another 5,000 years before they managed to shape glass into lenses and create the first telescope. After all, the binoculars are nothing else than a variation of the design of the telescope.
One person that is often credited with the invention of the binoculars is Hans Lippershey, a spectacle-maker of German-Dutch descent. However, the history of binoculars does not start with him as he was solely the first person to try to patent the telescope, but not the first one to develop it.
As you probably know, Galileo Galilei was the first man to ever see the craters of the moon. He was also the first to notice the moons of Jupiter and the rings of Saturn. The telescope that he built to do so had a similar design to that of the opera glasses that we utilize today. In the making of this telescope, he used various glass lenses to magnify objects up to 30 times.
A Galilean telescope is defined as having one convex lens and one concave lens. The concave lens serves as the ocular lens, or the eyepiece, while the convex lens serves as the objective. The lens are situated on either side of a tube such that the focal point of the ocular lens is the same as the focal point for the objective lens.
Sir Isaac Newton
The design of the telescope was then improved in 1704 by Sir Isaac Newton. The main change that he operated was to use a curved mirror to gather light and, also, to reflect the light to the desired point of focus.
To put it in simple terms, the mirrors that he utilized worked a lot like a bucket that collected light. Consequently, the bigger the bucket that he used, the more light it can collect.
A modification and, at the same an improvement of the original design created by Newton is attributed to James Short, a Scottish mathematician, and astronomer who, during his life, made around 1360 instruments of this kind. His design was very popular at the time and his telescopes soon began to be used in observatories all around the world.
The Short design was highly acclaimed because it features a device called the heliometer. With the use of the heliometer, the users of telescopes were able to do precise angle measurements of the distances between the stars. This was possible because of the shape of the heliometer, an objective lens that was separated into two equal parts. While one of the parts was adjustable, the other one was fixed in position.
The introduction of binoculars
As we have argued before, binoculars are nothing else than two telescopes joined together. The first to apply for a patent for a device of this kind was Hans Lippershey in 1608. However, box-shaped binoculars started to be manufactured in the 17th century, as well as in the first part of the 18th century by people like Pietro Patroni, Cherubin d’Orleans or I.M. Dobler.
Neither of these instrument makers was successful. The main reason for this was the fact that the devices that they produced were difficult to handle and not of high-quality. This all changed in 1825 when J. P. Lemiere managed to create the first real binocular telescope.
If you own a pair of binoculars, you are probably familiar with the concept of the Porro design. The Porro or the prism design that we use today when making binoculars was invented by Ignatio Porro in 1854. Soon after, the design started to be utilized by companies such as Nachet, Emil Busch and Boulanger.
One issue that made the binoculars manufactured by these companies less durable and practical was the low quality of glass that they utilized in the process. However, this all changed in 1894, when Ernst Abbe joined forces with the famous glassmaker Carl Zeiss. Today, Porro is credited as the inventor of the modern binoculars.
Another popular design today, the roof prism binoculars were invented in the 1870s by Achille Victor Emile Daubresse. The main advantage of roof prism models is the fact that they are more compact.