The Age of Galileo - Introduction and Historical Entry, 17th Century Science & Telescope
Dangerous Concept, Dangerous Times - Galileo, Kepler and the Church
"I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use." - Galileo Bonaiuti de' Galilei (15 Feb. 1564 to 8 Jan. 1642)
The physics of lens magnification was not a new concept in the 17th century world, the science dated back as far as A.D. 1000. Some of the first usable eyeglasses appeared around 1284 and by the mid 14th century the European spectacle industry saw a stable market amongst the well-educated, very rich noblemen or the influential and extremely well-read Italian clergy. Though the spectacles provided the technology needed for telescopic applications, no further use of the optics were developed in this direction for some time.
Then in Holland, early in the 17th century, an optical instrument was unveiled which could magnified objects that were off in the distance, whether it was land or sky. Though debated, credit for it's invention is given to Hans Lippershey (c1570-c1619) of Holland who seems to have applied for a patent for such a device in 1608. Though denied the patent on the grounds that the new device could not be kept a secret, being too easily copied, Lippershey did receive funds for several pair of binocular telescopes made for the delegation to the States General of the Netherlands.
Meanwhile, news of the invention spread quickly and by 1609 models of the device could be purchased in Paris markets. The instrument was a rather crude device by today's standards and later designs were not noted for stability, a result of the lengthening of the tubes which contained the lenses. Some designs grew to twenty-five, fifty or more feet in length; an example built by Polish astronomer Hevelius measured 158 feet in length! Cumbersome though they may have been, they were still...