Johannes Hevelius observing with one of his telescopes

Johannes Hevelius observing with one of his telescopes

It has been assumed that the first true telescope was invented in late 1608 by three Dutch spectacle-makers, Lippershey, Janssen and Metius, each not knowing about the other’s progress. In the following years, Galileu in Italy greatly improved the telescope, although he claims never having seen the original design. Galileu could, thus, have re-invented the telescope independently.

But new evidence suggests the telescope might have been invented earlier, in Spain, perhaps ten years before the Dutch patents.

The idea that all three Dutch invented the telescope almost at the same time is controversial. Lipperhey submitted his application for a patent on October 2nd, 1608. On October 14th there were reports of Janssen demonstrating his own invention. And on October 17th, Metius put in an independent patent for a telescope.

“Throughout history, there have been cases of people inventing things all at the same time. But generally, there’s a good reason for that. It’s because someone had put down a challenge. In 1608, no one had presented a challenge – there’s no perception of a challenge. It doesn’t make any sense. Three people did not invent the telescope in the space of two weeks.”

The new evidence started as a reference on the internet to a research paper published in 1959 by amateur historian Simon de Guilleuma, who investigated a reference in an Italian book published in 1609. In the book, it is described a meeting with an aged spectacle maker called Juan Roget in Gerona, Spain, who is then described as the real inventor of the telescope.

Historians have considered Juan Roget too marginal to pursue.

But Guilleuma discovered official listings for many of Roget’s relatives in Barcelona, many of whom were also spectacle-makers. They matched descriptions, places and dates detailed in the Italian book.

According to Guilleuma, inventory records from Barcelona indicate that in April 10th 1593 a “Don Pedro de Carolona” died and passed down to his wife “a long eyeglass decorated with brass”. Another inventory record from 1608 refers to an “eyeglass/telescope for long sight”.