Overview: Leeuwenhoek's Education and Training

Leeuwenhoek is sometimes portrayed as uneducated and thus self-taught. He did not go to school as a child to learn to read and write Latin. He did not go to a university. He did not travel or learn other languages well. For what he ended up doing with his life, however, fresh eyes unclouded by the academic dogma of the time were very helpful.

His formal education had two phases:

  • in Delft at school
  • in Warmond at Latin school

His apprenticeship also had two phases:

  • in Benthuizen studying law
  • in Amsterdam learning the linen trade

In the years before he began writing to the Royal Society, his training for his work as a maker of scientific instruments involved three skills:

  • lens grinding
  • glass blowing: lens and instruments
  • metal working: blacksmithing and silversmithing

After he began his observations, he had to gradually add four other laboratory skills:

  • dissection
  • specimen preparation
  • drawing and describing observations
  • records management

After the number of letters and his fame grew, he had to learn the business of science, so that he could purchase services

  • figure drawing
  • plate engraving
  • publishing: typesetting, printing, binding
  • inventory management: specimens, microscopes, manuscripts, plates, published pamphlets and books

Finally, his training to be able to quantify and measure his observations required skills that he learned and used elsewhere:

  • surveyor -- arithmetic and plane geometry
  • inspector of weights and measures - solid geometry

Leeuwenhoek drew many of the figures in his early letters. They were most often simple geometric shapes. They show that his drawing skills advanced rapidly, so he was a quick learner. However, his drawing skills soon were outpaced by the complexity of his observations, and he employed professional artists for the rest of his career.