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Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel (1572 - 1633)

Field(s) of interest: scientific instruments | submarine | chemistry | alchemy
Gender: male

Born: Alkmaar, 1572
Died: London, 1633

Instrument maker/inventor/painter who lived in Haarlem, Amsterdam, Prague and London. He made a water pump (for which he received a patent for 25 years in 1598), optical intruments and a clock with a perpetual motion. He was also an engraver and grinded lenses. In 1604, he and his wife Sophia, sister of his former tutor Hendrik Goltzius, moved to England where Drebbel started working for King James I of England. In 1610 Drebbel and family were invited to come to the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. After Rudolf's death in 1612, Drebbel went back to London. In 1619 Drebbel designed and built telescopes and microscopes and was involved in a building project for the Duke of Buckingham. Drebbel became famous for his invention in 1621 of a microscope with two convex lenses. Several authors, including Christiaan Huygens, assigned the invention of the compound microscope to Drebbel. In 1624 Galileo sent a Drebbel-type microscope to Federico Cesi, a wealthy noble citizen of Rome, who used it to illustrate Apiarum, his book about bees. He also built the first navigable submarine in 1620 while working for the English Royal Navy. Using William Bourne's design from 1578, he manufactured a steerable submarine with a leather-covered wooden frame. Between 1620 and 1624 Drebbel successfully built and tested two more submarines, each one bigger than the last. The final (third) model had 6 oars and could carry 16 passengers. This model was demonstrated to King James I in person and several thousand Londoners. The submarine stayed submerged for three hours and could travel from Westminster to Greenwich and back, cruising at a depth of from 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 metres). Drebbel even took James in this submarine on a test dive beneath the Thames, making James I the first monarch to travel underwater. This submarine was tested many times in the Thames, but it couldn't attract enough enthusiasm from the Admiralty and was never used in combat. Drebbel's most famous written work was Een kort Tractaet van de Natuere der Elementen (A short treatise of the nature of the elements) (Haarlem, 1621). He was also involved in the invention of mercury fulminate. He had found out that mixtures of 'spiritus vini' with mercury and silver in 'aqua fortis' could explode. The story goes that, while making a coloured liquid for a thermometer Cornelis dropped a flask of Aqua regia on a tin window sill, and discovered that stannous chloride makes the color of carmine much brighter and more durable. Though the inventor himself never made much money from his work, his daughters Anna and Catharina and his sons-in-law Abraham and Johannes Sibertus Kuffler set up a very successful dye works. One was set up in 1643 in Bow, London, and the resulting color was called bow dye. The recipe for 'color Kufflerianus' was kept a family secret and the new bright red color was all the rage in Europe

instrument maker: 1595 - 1633

Morpurgo, E. Nederlandse klokken- en horlogemakers vanaf 1300 (Amsterdam 1970), 35.

Een kort tractaet van de natuere der elementen, ende hoe sy veroorsaecken den wint, regen, blixem, donder ende waeromme dienstich zijn (Rotterdam 1621).

Rooseboom, M. Bijdrage tot de geschiedenis der instrumentmakerskunst in de noordelijke Nederlanden (Leiden 1950).

Snelders, H. Alkmaarse natuurwetenschappers uit de 16e en 17e eeuw (1980).

Berkel, K. van, e.a. A History of Science in the Netherlands (Leiden 1999), 441.

Wonder-vondt van de eeuwighe bewegingh (Alkmaar 1607).