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(1550? - 1607?) invented the sawmill when he combined two things that had been around since at least 1200 A.D., the post-type windmill and the crankshaft. In 1593, Corneliszoon received a 12-year patent on the sawmill. The prototype was a small windmill, the 'Juffertje' (young lady), which was built on a raft and ended up in the Zaan district. In 1597, he got other patents for the pitman arm converting the rotary movement of the arms of the mill into the linear movement of the saw frames mounted inside.
Sawmills are paltrok or post mills like this one, De Gekroonde Poelenburg
, with sheds on either side to protect the logs going in on one side and the sawn boards coming out on the other. That also means that the whole building, sheds included, (as opposed to just the top) must rotate to catch the wind.
Long, straight logs were rafted from Scandinavia to soak in the Zuider Zee until they were ready for the sawmills in the Zaan district across the Ij from Amsterdam. The district had over a thousand windmills, over two hundred of them sawmills. Ships, especially the herring buss and fluitschip, using the boards from these sawmills were built in the Zaan district, too, at the rate of 400 to 500 per year throughout van Leeuwenhoek's lifetime. It was another two hundred years before steam-powered sawmills matched the output of the Dutch wind-powered mills.
This diagram of a modern wind-driven sawmill (right) is based on the patent (drawing inset) of Cornelis Corneliszoon. The secret was the crankshaft (photo inset). The modern sawmill, note the top right of the diagram, still uses the same simple device.
The crankshaft is called a pitman arm when it converts the turning motion of the windmill, used for grinding grain and turning screws to raise water, into an up-and-down motion. In the diagram, the connecting rod below the crankshaft will move the multiple sawblades up and down as the log is forced through.
Windmills with this equipment sawed wood with precision, consistency, and speed. Compared to their competitors in England and Spain, the Dutch quickly, with less labor, mass-produced more ships, very similar to each other, making repairs easier, too. Within a century, the Dutch had constructed a commercial fleet larger than those of all its competitors combined, many of whom themselves relied on Dutch-built ships.
Zaandam (just north of Amsterdam) and its ships along with Leiden and its textiles became the world's first industrial centers; each of those industries was supported by suppliers of materials as well as those that made complementary products, like sails, ropes and nets all made from hemp and flax. Delft, just eleven miles away, shared in Leiden's prosperity. The textiles and fabrics that van Leeuwenhoek sold to support his family came from wool imported on those ships.
Deck of replica and inset photo of model of the Prins Willem, a spiegelretourschip.
Twice the size of a fluitschip, the spiegelretourschip (mirror return ship), called an East Indiaman by the British, carried gold and silver to purchase Asian goods as well as guns and bricks for the VOC (Dutch East India Company) forts and settlements in the East Indies. On return, these ships carried fabric, spice, and china back to the Dutch Republic to be distributed throughout Europe.
The Prins Willem was a spiegelretourschip of the VOC built in 1650 in Middelburg. The ship was in the service of the VOC until 1662. It was 68 meters long, 14 meters wide, and could carry 1200 tons of cargo.
Before the Battle of the Downs, 21 October 1639, Showing Tromp's Flagship 'Amelia'
oil on canvas, circa 1639
In order to protect its huge fleet of unarmed fluitschips and long, shallow coastline, the Dutch needed fighting ships, too, like this frigate, the Amelia, pictured with its fleet off the Straits of Dover in choppy seas.
(72.08 sq km / 27.8 sq mi) from the air and Jan Leeghwater
Delft solved its major drainage problem in the 1200's when the construction of the Maasdijk (Meuse dike) kept the Maas River away. In the flood plain polder behind that dike, smaller canals managed the water's flow to the Maas. Thus Delft could grow into a market town and industrial center.
Other parts of the Republic had lakes; draining them creating another kind of polder. In 1607, young Jan Adriaanszoon Leeghwater
(1575 - 1650) began designing and supervising the draining of a lake using windmills. The 25 mile (38 km) long ring dike failed the first time and had to be re-done. By 1612, Leeghwater's workers had built a higher ring dike. Within the ring, the jagged rectangle in the Google Earth shot above, they used dozens of windmills, some in series, to drained a droogmakerij
of over 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) of firm clay. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
, it is officially 3.5 meters below NAP - Normal Amsterdam Level.
Leeghwater was later involved in dozens of other successful drainage projects that opened land for investment, agriculture and population growth. As a result, Delft's competitive advantages declined during van Leeuwenhoek's lifetime.
photo of the Old Delft canal, Oude Delft gracht.
In van Leeuwenhoek's time, grachten
, brick-lined canals, were crucial to life in Dutch cities. They were used for transportation, drainage, sewage, and, in Delft, the brewing, ceramics, and textile industries. These combined functions were not good for public health.
In Delft the main gracht – the Oude Delft – started as a drainage canal for reclaiming marshy land. Extending the canals between cities created a relatively easy, cheap flow of materials, labor, and information that gave the Republic a competitive advantage over its European rivals.
Wool dresser - wolbereider
For centuries before van Leeuwenhoek's time, Delft had been known for its brewers and weavers. The weavers made laken, the traditional heavy, high-quality cloth from English wool. After war with the Spanish brought immigrants from the south, the weavers of Delft, following the lead of the much larger industry just to the north in Leiden, started making lighter cloth of combed or carded wool, bays (baize) of coarse wool, and rashes of twined wool, as well as wool blends, fustian with cotton, warps with linen, and camlets with silk, camel, and angora.
The process began with the hard labor of washing the wool. The wolbereider's rake was heavy itself, and stirring the soggy wool was back-breaking labor.
Weaver - lakenwever
After the wool was washed, it was carded and spun, usually by poor women and their children. The spun threads were then woven, using a loom of the same design first used by Egyptian slaves two thousand years earlier. The loom required a strong back as well as assistants.
Van Leeuwenhoek is described as a linen draper or haberdasher, selling the weavers' product at retail, not making it. Only two documents from his business have survived, two bills of sale for silk, bombazine, buttons, ribbons, and such.
Bleacher - bleeker
Woven cloth in the 1600's would be gray or dingy yellow and thus was bleached to increase its value. This could be done only in the long hours of summer when the sun was strong enough for drying, and only by using starch, bluing, and soap, as well as buttermilk and whey for the lactic acid. All of them polluted the waters the brewers needed for beer.
The bleached cloth was dyed and then trampled by a fuller, voller, in large tubs filled with earth, urine and ash in order to soften the cloth and give it a smooth, feltlike surface.
Cloth shearer - droogscheerder
After the fabric was washed and dried, the droogscheerder had to shave the hairs of the cloth until it had a smooth surface. Then it was ready for inspection by the St. Nicolaas Gilde's waardijns, inspectors.
Tailor - kleermaaker
The two chief uses of woven cloth were clothing and sails for ships and windmills. The clothing made by this method was so durable that it would often last longer than the person wearing it and be beqeathed to heirs.
- zijdereder, also spelled syreeder
Right out of the cocoon, grege, or raw silk thread, is dirty and stiff. It was rewound, usually by poor women at home, for use on a loom to make cloth or as embroidery. Geertruijt, the younger sister of van Leeuwenhoek, was married to a zijdereder, Jan van Schuijlenburg.
Amsterdam Stock Exchange
The Amsterdam Beurs or Stock Exchange was the world's most important single center of economic information and activity for much of the 17th century. It was the brains of the Dutch empire. Merchants could buy and sell practically anything, especially commodities, and arrange for financing, insurance, and shipping worldwide.
VOC (Dutch East India Company) bond
This financial instrument is for the amount of 2,400 florins. It was written out and authorized in Middelburgh. At the end of the printed text, Middleburgh was crossed out and it was signed in Amsterdam on November 7, 1623.
The bond, or obligatie
, was the lifeblood of the Dutch economy and empire, the major instrument by which the Dutch attained the highest savings/investment rates in Europe. (The Dutch also had the highest taxes.) Rente
or interest from these bonds was a continual source of income, and the bonds could be bequeathed to heirs. Van Leeuwenhoek bequeathed tens of thousands of guilders worth of bonds to half a dozen close relatives (source: Burg and Leeuwenhoek
Jan and Cornelis de Witt, two influential politicians
Attributed to Jan de Baen (1633-1702)
De lijken van de gebroeders De Witt, The corpses of the de Witt brothers
In the Dutch Republic, the major internal political tension was between the Grand Pensionary, representing the wealthy merchants, and the stadhouder
, a prince of the House of Orange. During van Leeuwenhoek's lifetime, there were three stadhouders
and two periods when the Grand Pensionary was the most important political position:
Frederik Hendrik of Orange, 1625-1647
William II, Prince of Orange, 1647-1650
William III of Orange, 1672-1702
What happend to end the first period without a stadtholder? In 1672, Jan De Witt
was the Grand Pensionary. The Orangists tricked him into visiting his brother Cornelius, also a prominent politician, in prison in the Hague. They sent away the guards and gave the brothers to a mob of Orangist supporters of William III, who cut the brothers up and hung the parts for display on the Groene Zoodje on the Vijverberg in the center of the city.
During van Leeuwenhoek's lifetime, the Dutch West India Company, overall a losing business proposition, was second only to the Portuguese in the number of slaves it transported across the Atlantic. In Africa, the WIC traded European manufactured goods for the slaves and then in America, traded the slaves for raw sugar, which they brought back to the Republic.
On the right is an illustration from a textbook for surgeons, Armamentarium Chirurgicum, Arsenal of Surgery, written by Johannes Scultetus (1595-1645) and published in 1655. The book instructs on best practices of amputation, delivery by forceps, and surgery of the rectum and mouth.
On the left is what actually happened when you went to the surgeon, who was often also the butcher, already having the best knives and an understanding of mammalian anatomy.
Anatomical Theatre - Leiden
A replica of this anatomical theatre is in the Boerhaave Museum in Leiden.
The medical doctors of the time were more interested in herbal remedies and theories. Probably only opium and quinine actually worked. Folklore cures and poisonous metals were popular treatments.
Van Leeuwenhoek spent considerable energy early in his career, at the suggestion of the officers of the Royal Society, investiging moxibustion
, a new treatment for gout brought back from the East Indies by the VOC. Moxibustion
involves spreading mugwort oil on a patch of your skin and then setting it on fire. It had been used by the Chinese for centuries and was all the rage in Europe. Van Leeuwenhoek was not favorably impressed.
The Most Prosperous Country
The Dutch Republic during its Golden Age
was the world's most prosperous
and learned country.
Antony van Leeuwenhoek began making and using his lenses after establishing himself as a cloth merchant and city official. He did not travel widely or learn any language other than Dutch. Why would he?
The Dutch Republic had emerged from its eighty-year war of independence from Spain as a powerful economic engine. Van Leeuwenhoek lived in the most populated, learned, and prosperous part of Europe during the height of its Golden Age. In van Leeuwenhoek's lifetime, the Dutch developed the world's highest standard of living and what some historians call the first modern economy.
How did the Dutch do that? Look at their clever innovations. The pitman (a reverse crankshaft) converted the circular grinding motion of the windmill into an up-and-down sawing motion. Dutch shipbuilders could saw longer, straighter boards with far less manpower. They developed the fluitschip for transport, the frigate for fighting, and the floating herring factory, all of which needed smaller crews. The Dutch commercial shipping fleet, soon outnumbering the fleets of the other European countries, carried Dutch fishermen, sailors, traders, engineers, and settlers to the southern tip of Africa and beyond to the islands of Southeast Asia and later to the West Indies.
Land and labor
Even before the Golden Age, the drained peat bogs of the soggy, marshy Low Countries could not produce enough grain to feed the people. They grew industrial plants -- hemp, hops, and flax -- that they turned into sails, rope, nets, beer, and the cloth that van Leeuwenhoek sold. Peat and wind provided cheap energy.
Freed from food farming, workers had the liberty to move freely from city to city on the canals to seek employment, practicing their crafts or just providing the labor. Raw materials and finished goods traveled with them.
There was no famine because herring was abundant and imported wheat, for bread and beer, was not dependent on local weather. Charitable organizations removed the desperate poverty that caused riots and rebellions in nearby countries.
Trade, especially foreign trade, distribution, and marketing were more important than religion. Free markets for labor and commodities were more important than the vanity of a monarch or feudal lord, which the Dutch people never had. They tolerated other religions. Skilled workers from around Europe fleeing persecution settled in Dutch cities.
The Dutch had the highest taxes in Europe, set by local councils and centuries-old water boards. They also had the highest savings rate, freeing capital to finance the building of ships and canals and the draining of more land.
Perhaps the most important competitive advantage came from financing. Trustworthy markets in bonds, credit, insurance, and shares of publicly-traded companies were mediated by a stock exchange, the Bank of Amsterdam, and a sober group of merchant bankers. Contracts and property rights were honored and enforced.
In 1662, Pieter de la Court wrote in The True Interest and Political Maxims:
It is a great advantage for the traffick of Holland ... that Hollanders may buy and lay out their ready money a whole season, before the goods they purchase are in being, and manufactured, and sell them again on trust (which cannot be done by any other trading nation, considering their high interest of money) and therefore is one of the greatest means whereby the Hollanders have gotten most of the trade from other nations.
Without censorship and with the free flow of information, the Dutch had the liberty to collect, share and use information to develop their financial and intellectual capital.
From basic literacy, even for females, to its five universities, the Dutch Republic was the most learned country in Europe. There was a market for the arts and they flourished, especially painting.
On the other hand, the 17th Century had its ignorances and superstitions, its secrets, its plagues, and its brutalities.
Losing politicians were dismembered.
Slaves were bought and sold.
Medical doctors did more harm than good.
Much of the most learned discourse was ignorant prattle.
Most of the people who sailed away from the Republic never returned. But those who did brought back spices, plants, and animals and, especially, information and knowledge.
The curious observer
Into this world came another collector of information, an observant, methodical, curious man who had little formal education but lots of leisure over a long life. And very good eyesight.
Antony van Leeuwenhoek was the right person at the right place, and his technical innovations let him get over a hundred years ahead of his time. What he was able to do alone with a single-lens microscope would take until the mid-1800's to be done by academic scientists with double-lens microscopes.
How did van Leeuwenhoek make and use those lenses?
How did the people of this soggy little country create such prosperity? Even at the time, the world wanted to know.
The book The True Interest and Political Maxims, of the Republic of Holland (title page of 1746 English translation below) analyzed it so well that it went into many editions and translations. Written by Leiden cloth merchant Pieter de la Court, it explained the Dutch economic "miracle" as having been caused by free competition and republican government.
The Dutch had the freest, most innovative economy in Europe.
Capital and labor flowed to where they were most needed.
A series of technical and financial innovations gave the Dutch competitive advantages that they exploited fully.
Jan Luyken (Johannes Luiken), (1649-1712), was a poet and painter who in 1694 produced Het Menselyk Bedryf, The Book of Trades (detail of title page below), an emblem book of 100 engravings illustrating various 17th century trades.
A dozen of the trades were involved in the textile industry, from wolbereider (wooldresser) to kleermaaker (tailor).
Others, such as draaier (grinder), glasblazer (glass blower) and smid (metal smith), were skills van Leeuwenhoek had to learn to make his lenses and microscopes.
As someone who self-published a dozen printed volumes in Dutch and Latin, including illustration engraved in copper, van Leeuwenhoek as also involved with the boeckdrukker (printer), plaatdrucker (copperplate printer) and boeckbinder (binder).
Long list of obsolete Dutch occupations