Antonie van Leeuwenhoek – A comprehensive biography

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Biography

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was a Dutch scientist, naturalist, businessman and microscopist. Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek discovered small creatures such as bacteria, protozoa, parasitic and free-living protists, blood cells, sperm cells, rotifers, nematodes, hydra and volvox by his own handcrafted microscope.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Family

Leeuwenhoek’s father Antonisz Van Leeuwenhoek was a basket maker and his maternal family was connected with the business of brewers. Antonie’s father died when he was only five years old.

After the death of his father, Antonie’s mother remarried Jacob Jansz Molijn, a painter by profession. His step-father died when he was only ten years old.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and his wife
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and his wife

On 29 July 1654, Antonie married Barbara de Mey a draper’s daughter from Norwich England. In 1666, his wife died and had five children.

On 25 January 1671, Leeuwenhoek remarried and his wife was the daughter of a Calvinist minister and she died in 1694.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Sibling

Leeuwenhoek had four sisters Magriet, Neeltje, Geertruyt, and Catherina from his first father.

Who was Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek?

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek was born in Delft, Netherland on October 24, 1632. He was a scientist and known as the Father Of Microbiology. He was also a well-known businessman and microscopist created approximately 500 handicraft microscopes.

Leeuwenhoek House in Delft

Van Leeuwenhoek’s research on small creatures like bacteria, protozoa, and spermatozoa invalidated the theory or doctrine of spontaneous generation.

After the improvement of the magnification power of the handcrafted microscope, Antonie was the pioneer to observe and describe the nature of unicellular microscopic organisms and these single-cell creatures were referred to as “animalcules” means (tiny animals).

His observation of microorganisms was helpful for science to make the vast branches like bacteriology and Parazoology.

Early Life of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Antonie served their whole life in Delft and he was baptized. He was only five years old his father died and his mother remarried a painter Jansz Molijn but he lost his second father when he was only ten years old.

He sent to the grammar school of Warmond which was situated in the village near Leiden. Antonie leaves the school and sent to live in Benthuizen to his uncle which was a lawyer.

After a short period to stay there, he went to Amsterdam in the year of 1648. He became an apprentice at a textile draper’s shop in Amsterdam when Leeuwenhoek was only sixteen years old.

After six years he went back to Delft to open the shop and start their own business of textile.

Political Career of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek 

Van Leeuwenhoek was a popular cloth merchant and haberdasher in Delft then he decided to join the municipal politics. In 1660, he started a new career as a civil servant and allocated as an usher to the aldermen of the municipal committee of Delft.

After that, In the period of 1660, he was appointed as a wine gauger and land surveyor to the court of Holland. Antonie was financially secure due to their official income. He was lucky because the municipality granted him a pension to fulfill their scientific achievements in those ages.

Business Career of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek was a famous businessman in Delft. When he returned from Amsterdam, he opened his own textile and haberdasher shop in Delft. There was a golden time to implement their experiences which were learned from Amsterdam.

Scientific Career of van Leeuwenhoek

Van Leeuwenhoek was a well-known microscopes. He saw the first microscope on the linen-draper shop which was so simple with simple magnifying lenses.

In those days there was an appropriate method for textile merchants to inspect the quality of threads. Antonie was not satisfied because the magnification power of this microscope was not so well when he decided to make a handcrafted microscope with highly magnification power.

When Leeuwenhoek came back to Delft to open their own shop of the textile then he promotes their interest to make his own self-made microscope.

After a short period, he made approximately five hundred different microscopes with a different worth of magnification. Antonie played a significant role in the discoveries of a minute biological creature.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek
Major Discoveries of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Leeuwenhoek was an efficient scientist but unlucky about their higher education because he belonged to the family of tradesman. Due to their lack of scientific education, this task was hard to make logical scientific conclusions because it is important to obligate scientific rules when someone introduces their scientific work.

Leeuwenhoek’s concepts about their discoveries were carefully observed and documented. Antonie’s scientific career started earlier when he identified the nature of single-celled microorganisms.

After the formation of the well-magnified microscope he studied and examined the bacteria, protozoa, blood cells and other microscopic organisms that cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Animalcules observed by van Leeuwenhoek
Bacteria discovered by van Leeuwenhoek

In 1676, Leeuwenhoek discovered and observed bacteria in pond and rainwater.In1683, he also observed Selenomonads from the oral part of humans and estimated that more than 10,000 bacteria can fill the tiny grain of sand.

Fecal Bacteria discovered by van Leeuwenhoek
Red Blood Cells identification by van Leeuwenhoek

In 1674, Antonie studied the shape and size of red blood cells.He determined the accurate size of cells with his magnifying lens.Leeuwenhoek also examined that the living organisms are composed of eighty percent (80%) water.

Spermatozoa discovery by  van Leeuwenhoek

In 1677, Van Leeuwenhoek studied the male gametes. He discovered the spermatozoa in amphibians, insects, humans, arthropods, mollusks, fishes, birds, and mammals. He concluded that the fertilization occurs when sperm entered or penetrate in the female egg.

Sperm Cells
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek discovery of sperm cells
Lymphatic Capillaries discovery

In 1683, Antonie dissects the insects and discovered lymphatic capillaries that have white colorless fluid containing white blood cells.

Plant Anatomy identification

Van Leeuwenhoek identified the structure of root, leaf, and stem and also examined that the plant’s tissues are composed of complex mesh-like structures made up of globules but his description about plant function is unclear because he was not totally understood and about their functions.

Microscopic Study of Ash Tree
Other Well Known Discoveries of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek

Van Leeuwenhoek refuted the doctrine of anomalous or spontaneous generation. When he observed the life cycle of fleas and maggots then he described that these organisms do not spontaneously produce then he described the life cycle of insects and the process of reproduction.

He discovered parthenogenesis in aphids by dissecting their body part and also described the life histories of different animals like a flea, weevil and an ant.

Antonie observed the structure of muscle fibers and confirmed their work by William Harvey’s by perceiving the blood flow in capillaries.


Van Leeuwenhoek observed Giardia, Sheep liver fluke and other parasites by using their own microscope.

He found minute organisms when he examined their own stool during the time of diarrhea and he studied their helical movement of microorganisms. Antonie’s discovery of parasites paved the path to advanced parasitology.

He studied plaque formation in the oral cavity by probe his own teeth. When Antonie was studied about nematodes and rotifers then he observed that microorganisms may propagate by air, water, and wind to initiate the process of fertilization.

Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek Microscope

Antonie Leeuwenhoek was a microscopist. He was not the inventor of the microscope but prominent to improve the magnification power of the microscope.

He ground more than five hundred small lenses and made approximately five hundred microscopes and the lens was made up of a small rod of soda-lime glass.

The sphere of the lens was small but the highest magnification power and the frame of the microscope were made of silver and brass.

The range of magnification was 50X to 300X but some lenses magnification have more than four hundred times and the magnification power of the compound microscope was only 20X to 30X which was invented before the birth of Van Leeuwenhoek.

Leeuwenhoek handcrafted microscope

The cadre of Leeuwenhoek microscope was made by brass with a small hole on the upper side of the plate to adjust the lens. The pin and three screws which move the sample and pin to adjust their focus point.

This instrument was smaller than a compound microscope and only three to six inches long. The sample mounted on the pin and screw to move the pin for clearly focus the specimen.

The illumination and eye closure of the lens was important to examine the sample which was mounted on the pin. Through this self-made microscope, Van Leeuwenhoek discovered the small unicellular organisms and trace the new world of the tiny creature.

Father of Microbiology van Leeuwenhoek

Antonie Leeuwenhoek considered as the “Father of Microbiology”.He discovered small unicellular organisms by his own self-made microscope.

His discoveries are so vast and some notable are bacteria, parasitic microscopic protists, sperm cells, nematodes, rotifers and many other biological organisms.

Antonie traced the path of advancement in the field of parasitology, protozoology, and bacteriology.

He was well known and efficient in their field and credit of prosperity in the fields of microbiology goes to Antonie van leeuwenhoek.No doubt he was a great scientist and the father of microbiology.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Cell Theory:

In cell theory it is stated that the living organisms are made up of cell and cell is the basic unit of structure, function, and reproduction in all living organisms.

Robert Hook discovered the first cell from a compound microscope. He believed that cells are not alive with no nucleus and organelles.

He described a cell in his book Micrographia but Hook was not totally understood about the nature of cell and the theory of spontaneous generation still accepted at that time until before the work of Leeuwenhoek.

Van Leeuwenhoek described the nature of the cell by his own microscope which was highly magnification power than the Hook’s compound microscope.

WhenLeeuwenhoek saw small organisms under the microscope he discovered that the cells are alive and motile. He wrote many letters to the royal society and elaborate about the nature of microorganisms.

In one letter he states that the quality of life is nothing without motility and all living cells are motile. He was first to provide knowledge about bacteria, protozoa and the process of fertilization.

Van Leeuwenhoek rejected the doctrine of spontaneous generation and he is the main pillar of the edifice of cell theory.

Rejection of Spontaneous Generation

The primitive Greek doctrine of spontaneous generation was rejected by the contribution of different scientists. Francesco Redi and Van Leeuwenhoek are prominent to refute the theory of spontaneous generation but Redi’s experimental work has not a solid argument to reject the idea of abiogenesis.

He described that living organisms like maggots and fleas are born from other living organisms but he was disabled to prove that the eggs of flies turned into maggots.

Leeuwenhoek a pioneer who discovered the cell and other unicellular organisms and supported the postulate of cell theory.

He proved that the cells of the living organisms are come from pre-existing cells and cannot be spontaneously produced by nature. This doctrine of abiogenesis was rejected after the Leeuwenhoek cell discovery.

Van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hook

Robert Hook and Van Leeuwenhoek are eminent scientists of the seventeen century. They refined the work of science and contribute to science to paved the path of human prosperity.

Robert Hook published their book ”Micrographia” in 1683 and in this book he described the cell which was examined by a compound microscope with small magnification power approximately 20X TO 30x. He described that the cell is like a hexagonal room and not alive.

Robert also examined the cell wall of the plant but Leeuwenhoek was an efficient scientist to studied the unicellular microorganisms which cannot be seen by the naked eye.

He examined that the cell is alive and organisms are not spontaneously produced.van Leeuwenhoek improved and refined the work of Robert Hook.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek letters and Royal Society Membership

Van Leeuwenhoek was not satisfied to publicize their work in the Royal Society. His friend  Dutch physician Regnier de Graaf insist Leeuwenhoek introduce his work on the microscope in Royal Society.

He wrote a letter to the society about the microscopic observation of bees, lice, and mold. In 1673, the society publishes this letter in the journal Philosophical Transaction of Royal Society by the contribution of Henry Oldenburg who was the editor of a journal.

Henry Oldenburg learned Dutch for this purpose to translate letters into Latin and English.Antonie’s work on bee mouthpart and sting was published in 1673 and he never went to the Royal Society to attend the meeting of the society.

He was introduced to the Royal Society by his friends and initially, he introduced his own scientific work to his friends.

Leeuwenhoek letter to the Royal Society

In 1667, Antonie Leeuwenhoek sent a copy of his observation on the unicellular microscopic organisms in the Royal Society then the reliability was questioned in the society because he was not well educated.

After that, the work of Leeuwenhoek confirmed by the members of the Royal Society and acknowledged by society. In February 1680, he was elected to a member of the royal society in London and recognized as a scientist.

He worked alone in Delft and never attended the ceremony or meeting of the society. Robert Hook, Henry Oldenburg, Robert Boyle and Christopher Wren were contemporaries of Van Leeuwenhoek and the members of the Royal Society.

He wrote many scientific letters to the society and other institutions approximately Antonie wrote five hundred letters over a period of 50 years to introduce their work in the world of science.

 Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Death

In his last few months, Leeuwenhoek suffered from a disease and described his own rare disease in his letters to the Royal Society.

In this disease, the movement of midriff is not eased to control and this disease is now named Van Leeuwenhoek disease. Leeuwenhoek died on 26 August 1723 at the age of 90 and buried in the old church of Delft.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Grave Epitaph
Antonie van Leeuwenhoek Notable Quotes
Quote about little creature
How little do we discover in comparison of those things which now are and forever will be hidden from our sight? The whole of which I am fully persuaded no one will ever be able to dive into, and to explain their causes and effects.
Quote about thoughts
A man has always to be busy with his thoughts if anything is to be accomplished.
Quote about origin
For my part, I hold it equally impossible for a small shellfish to be produced without generation as for a whale to have its origin from the mud.
Quote about ideas
My determination is not to remain stubbornly with my ideas, but I’ll leave them and go over to others as soon as I am shown plausible reasons which I can grasp.
Quote about rain water
In rain water, I observed a small red worm and two other kinds of very minute insects; of those of the larger size, I judged that 30,000 together would not equal a coarse sand.
Quote about animal and water
I have lately examined water, in which beaten pepper was steeped, and found two sorts of animals for shape, and each of those sorts to contain greater and smaller kinds: the greater I supposed the elder, the less the younger
Quote about blood and animal
If we now plainly perceive that the passage of the blood from the arteries into the veins of the tadpole is not performed in any other than those vessels, which are so minute as only to admit the passage of a single globule at a time, we may conclude that the same is performed in like manner in our own bodies and in those of other animals.
Quote about life and time
Life lives on life – it is cruel, but it is God’s will. And it is for our good, of course, because if there weren’t little animals to eat up the young mussels, our canals would be choked by those shellfish, for each mother has more than a thousand young ones at a time!
Quote about time and invention
I have oft-times been besought, by divers gentlemen, to set down on paper what I have beheld through my newly invented microscope, but I have generally declined.
Quote about morning and coffee
When I have supped too heavily of an evening, I drink in the morning a large number of cups of coffee, and that as hot as I can drink it, so that the sweat breaks out on me, and if by so doing I can’t restore my body, a whole apothecary’s shop couldn’t do much, and that is the only thing I have done for years when I have felt a fever.
Quote about free man
I’ve never taught one, because if I taught one, I’d have to teach others… I would give myself over to a slavery, whereas I want to stay a free man.
Quote about sheep
Just as the supposed number may differ from the true number by fully 100, 150, or even 200 in a flock of 600 sheep, so may I be even more out of my reckoning in the case of these very little animalcules

Timeline of Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek

October 24 , 1632                     Antonie van Leeuwenhoek born in Delft

May 17 , 1638                          Antonie biological father died when he was only five years old

1643                                            Leeuwenhoek second father died

  JUNE 18 ,1648                        Antonie migrate from Delft to Amsterdam

March  21 , 1654                         He returned to Delft and established his own textile business

July  29 ,  1654                           Antonie married Barbara de Mey

January 3 , 1666                         His first wife died

August  16 ,1668                         He learned to grind microscopic lenses

May  17  , 1671                             Antonie remarried Cornelia Swalmius

March  17 , 1673                          His observation published in Royal Society

September 7 , 1674                  He was pioneer to see and examine the single cellular bacteria

1674                                 Antonie also examined the red blood cells and discovered protists

1676                                            He discovered the bacteria genus (Selenomonas)

April 10, 1680                                He recognized as a member of Royal Society

1683                                           Van Leeuwenhoek discovered lymphatic capillaries

1683                                 Van Leeuwenhoek observed plaque formation  in the human oral cavity

October 28 , 1698                          Demonstrate the blood circulation

August  26 , 1723                            Leeuwenhoek died in Delft

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