an optical clock

Optics Timeline

Optics is the physical science that studies the origin and propagation of light, how it changes, what effects it produces, and other phenomena associated with it. This "Optics Timeline" highlights important events and developments in the science of optics from prehistory to the beginning of the 21st century. It also includes related developments in other fields and related milestones in the human worldview.


1590 — First compound microscope is developed.
1608 — First patent for a device with multiple lenses applied for

Hans Lippershey

Applied for the first patent on a device with multiple lenses, arranged in a tube, that refracted incoming light in a way that made distant objects look larger - the telescope

1610 — Using his telescope, Galileo reports several astronomical discoveries


1621 — Snell's Law developed

Willebrord van Roijen Snell

1665 — Built compound microscopes with significantly better magnifications than had been achieved previously

Robert Hooke

1666 — Describes the splitting of white light into colors when it passes through a prism.

Isaac Newton

1713 — Creation of spin glass fibers

Rene de Reaumur

Makes spun glass fibers

1727 — Speed of light is deduced and measured

James Bradley

1800 — "Discovered" infrared in the spectrum

William Herschel

1841 — Demonstrates light guiding in jet of water

Daniel Colladon

1842 — Reports light guiding in water jets and bent glass rods

Jacques Babinet

1850 — Discovered that color photographs could be made using a combination of red, green & blue filters.

James Clerk Maxwell

1873 — Makes glass fibers that can be woven into cloth

Jules de Brunfaut

1878 — Determined the speed of light with great accuracy

A. A. Michelson

1879 — Develops the first electric lamp

Thomas Edison

1880 — Invention of a system of light pipes to illuminate homes.

William Wheeler

Invents a system of light pipes lined with a highly reflective coating that illuminated homes by using light from an electric arc lamp placed in the basement and directing the light around the home with the pipes.

1880 — Invention of the photophone

Alexander Graham Bell

The photophone transmitted a voice signal on a beam of light. Bell focused sunlight with a mirror and then talked into a mechanism that vibrated the mirror. At the receiving end, a detector picked up the vibrating beam and decoded it back into a voice the same way a phone did with electrical signals. Many things -- a cloudy day for instance -- could interfere with the Photophone, causing Bell to stop any further research with this invention

1881 — Michelson-Morely experiment proved that light does not require something to travel in

Albert A. Michelson & Edward Morley

1882 — Invention of the Michelson interferometer

Albert A. Michelson

Invented the Michelson interferometer, which was used in proving light does not require something to travel in

1887 — Development of a method to draw ultrafine fiber of quartz

Sir Charles Vernon Boys

Developed a method to draw utlrafine fibers of quartz and invented a type of balance using these fibers that rotates when a small force acts on it

1888 — Use bent glass rods to illuminate body cavities

Dr. Roth & Prof. Reuss of Vienna

1888 — Granted a patent for the handheld "Kodak" roll film camera

George Eastman

1891 — Measured the angular diameters of the satellites of Jupiter.

Albert A. Michelson

1891 — Lippmann process developed

Gabriel J. Lippmann

The Lippmann process: A revolutionary color-photography process that utilized the natural colors of light wavelengths instead of using dyes and pigments

1893 — Measured the standard meter in terms of a spectroscopic cadmium line

Albert A. Michelson

1895 — Coelostat invented

Gabriel J. Lippmann

Coelostat, a device with a rotating mirror that produces a stationary image of a the sky and stars

1895 — Designs a system of bent glass rods for guiding light in an early television scheme

Henry C. Saint-Rene

1895 — The first medical X-ray image is taken
1897 — Development the Fabry-Perot interferometer for spectral studies

Charles Fabry & Alfred Pérot

1898 — Bent glass rod used as a surgical lamp

David D. Smith