16th Century Inventors and Inventions

Throughout the 16th century, there have been many different inventors and inventions that we still use and admire today. In this article, you will learn a little more about the ins and outs regarding the history of the microscope, the pencil, and the thermometer, which are products of the 1500s.

Compound Microscope

In 1595, it was a Dutch lens maker (Zacharias Janssen) responsible for inventing the first compound microscope, which has become quite the useful tool in the world of science. The compound microscope differs from other pieces of equipment because it possesses more than one lens. The construction of his microscope included two tubes that slid within one another with a lens attached at each end. To focus the microscope, all you had to do was slide the tubes.

As for the lens, they were bi-convex within the eyepiece (meaning they bulged outward on both sides). The lens of the far end (also known as the objective lens) was called plano-convex, which means it was flat on one side and bulged outward on the other side. Janssen truly came up with a helpful tool, as it offered scientists three to nine times the power of magnification. To this day, it is unclear whether or not Janssens’s father assisted him with the building of the microscope.

In later years, Robert Hooke would use another early microscope to place observations of cork slices, which came from the bark of the oak tree. This invention would offer 30X the magnifying power. His findings were later published in “Microgphia” in 1665. Eight years later, Antony van Leeuwenhoek would discover bacteria, sperm cells, blood cells, and other living and parasitic microscopic critters using a microscope that possessed a 300X power single lens.


In 1564, the first “lead” pencil, which actually did not contain any lead at all, has a history that traces back to a rather large graphite (black carbon) mine situated in England. Researchers reveal that the pure graphite was made into sheets using a saw, which was then cut into rods shaped like a square. These graphite rods were then inserted into wooden holders that others had carved by hand. This would become the first pencil.

For a long time, the graphite was called black lead or “plumbago,” which originated from the Greek word for ‘lead.’ This is because the substance resembled lead, as it looked and performed in the same manner. At that time, people were unaware that graphite was made of carbon and not lead. In following years, a French officer who served in Napoleon’s army (Nicholas Jacques Conte) is credited with patenting the modern techniques used to kiln-fire powdered graphite with clay to fashion pencils of any type of hardness.


In 1593, the first thermometer was the brainchild of Galileo Galilei, who created his instrument using glass bulbs containing water. As the water traveled up and down the bulb, it was an indication that the temperature has undergone a change.