History of Microscopy

How it all began

ZEISS has been producing high-precision microscopes since the middle of the 19th century. From 1857 onwards, the simple models were followed by compound microscopes. Thanks to the work of scientist Ernst Abbe, microscopes have been based on theoretical calculations since 1872. This enabled the production of large numbers of microscopes to the same exceptional quality. In addition to scientific applications, the microscopes came to be used for routine tasks in clinics, for checking materials, and for educational purposes. The development of microscopes kept advancing, resulting in new models with new technologies, such as the renowned Axiomat in 1973 and the LSM laser scanning microscope, a microscope system with object scanning by means of an oscillating laser and electronic image processing.

Technological Milestones

1847
Simple microscope with doublet and triplet optics. Production of simple microscopes begins. © ZEISS Archives

Simple microscope with doublet and triplet optics. Production of simple microscopes begins.

1857
Carl Zeiss sells his first compound microscope. © ZEISS Archives

Carl Zeiss sells his first compound microscope.

1887
High-performance microphotographic system from Roderich Zeiss (1850–1919). © ZEISS Archives

High-performance microphotographic system from Roderich Zeiss (1850–1919).

1897
Greenough stereomicroscope © ZEISS Archives

Greenough stereomicroscope.

1899
Metallographic system based on Martens design © ZEISS Archives

Metallographic system based on Martens design.

1903
Invention of the ultramicroscope by Henry Siedentopf and Richard A. Zsigmondy © ZEISS Archives

Invention of the ultramicroscope by Henry Siedentopf and Richard A. Zsigmondy

1904
Ultraviolet microscope by August Köhler and Moritz von Rohr © ZEISS Archives

Ultraviolet microscope by August Köhler and Moritz von Rohr

1908
Test setup for fluorescence microscopy by August Köhler and Henry Siedentopf © ZEISS Archives

Test setup for fluorescence microscopy by August Köhler and Henry Siedentopf.

1933
The famous L-stand becomes the standard for microscope design © ZEISS Archives

The famous L-stand becomes the standard for microscope design

1936
First prototype of a phase-contrast microscope based on Zernike’s original design; he wins the Nobel Prize in 1953. © ZEISS Archives

First prototype of a phase-contrast microscope based on Zernike’s original design; he wins the Nobel Prize in 1953

1943
Device for microcinematography: under the direction of Kurt Michel, the first film on cell division is produced in a Carl Zeiss laboratory with the aid of a phase-contrast microscope © ZEISS Archives

Device for microcinematography: Under the direction of Kurt Michel, the first film on cell division is produced in a "micro"laboratory with the aid of a phase-contrast microscope.

1950
The Standard microscope becomes one of the most successful models in the history of Carl Zeiss © ZEISS Archives

The "Standard" microscope becomes one of the most successful models in the history of Carl Zeiss

1955
Launch of an all-new photomicroscope with integrated camera and automatic exposure control © ZEISS Archives

Launch of an all-new photomicroscope with integrated camera and automatic exposure control

1973
Axiomat, a microscope with unparalleled stability and image quality © ZEISS Archives

Axiomat, a microscope with unparalleled stability and image quality

1982
The laser scanning microscope, a microscope system with object scanning through an oscillating laser beam and electronic image processing © ZEISS Archives

The laser scanning microscope, a microscope system with object scanning through an oscillating laser beam and electronic image processing

1986
ZEISS unveils a new generation of microscopes – the “pyramids”: the design includes special features of the Axioplan, Axiophot, and Axiotron: ICS (Infinity Color Corrected System) and SI (System Integration) © ZEISS Archives

ZEISS unveils a new generation of microscopes: the "pyramids": the design includes special features of the Axioplan, Axiophot, and Axiotron: ICS (Infinity Color Corrected System) and SI (System Integration)

2003
The ApoTome imaging process allows high-quality, economical optical sections to be produced by means of biological samples marked by fluorescence In the same year it won the R&D 100 Award © ZEISS Archives

The ApoTome imaging process allows high-quality, economical optical sections to be produced by means of biological samples marked by fluorescence In the same year it won the R&D 100 Award

2005
The LSM 5 LIVE, a light microscope, with which living cells can be examined 20 times faster and in a particularly gentle manner, enters series production in Jena and receives the R&D Award for its performance in real-time research. © ZEISS Archives

The LSM 5 LIVE, a light microscope, with which living cells can be examined 20 times faster and in a particularly gentle manner, enters series production in Jena and receives the R&D Award for its performance in real-time research.

Microscope Optics

1869
Illumination apparatus with focusable condenser: Ernst Abbe © ZEISS Archives

Illumination apparatus with focusable condenser: Ernst Abbe

1872
Ernst Abbe’s research results allow microscope optics to be produced on the basis of mathematical calculations for the first time © ZEISS Archives

Ernst Abbe’s research results allow microscope optics to be produced on the basis of mathematical calculations for the first time

1877
Microscopes with homogeneous immersion, calculated by Abbe according to ideas by J.W. Stephenson © ZEISS Archives

Microscopes with homogeneous immersion, calculated by Abbe according to ideas by J.W. Stephenson

1886
First apochromatic microscope lens, a color-corrected objective lens for three wavelengths based on the calculations of Ernst Abbe The foundation for this achievement was in part the concerted attempts by Abbe and Schott to improve optical glass © ZEISS Archives

First apochromatic microscope lens, a color-corrected objective lens for three wavelengths based on the calculations of Ernst Abbe The foundation for this achievement was in part the concerted attempts by Abbe and Schott to improve optical glass

1893
Illumination device with separate control of the luminous field and condenser aperture: August Köhler (1866–1948) © ZEISS Archives

Illumination device with separate control of the luminous field and condenser aperture: August Köhler (1866–1948)

1936
The Pancratic condenser made for an ideal way of combining a microscope with the whole illumination device for the first time © ZEISS Archives

The Pancratic condenser made for an ideal way of combining a microscope with the whole illumination device for the first time

1938
Plan-Apochromats and Plan-Achromats with a flat image field for photomicrography based on calculations by Hans Boegehold (1876–1965) © ZEISS Archives

Plan-Apochromats and Plan-Achromats with a flat image field for photomicrography based on calculations by Hans Boegehold (1876–1965)

1952
Neofluar: new optics for making microscopes © ZEISS Archives

Neofluar: new optics for making microscopes

1959
Ultrafluar: Carl Zeiss manufactures lens system for ultraviolet light and visible light – a major step forwards in micro-spectral photometry © ZEISS Archives

Ultrafluar: Carl Zeiss manufactures lens system for ultraviolet light and visible light – a major step forwards in micro-spectral photometry 

1965
Differential interference contrast (DIC) device according to Georges Nomarski © ZEISS Archives

Differential interference contrast (DIC) device according to Georges Nomarski

1999
PlasDIC by ZEISS allows the use of plastic dishes for microscopic examinations to apply the differential interference contrast © ZEISS Archives

PlasDIC by ZEISS allows the use of plastic dishes for microscopic examinations to apply the differential interference contrast