Monticello researchers have compiled selected references to microscopes in Thomas Jefferson's letters and accounts. A chronological list is provided below.

Solar Microscope. Thomas Jefferson Foundation, Inc.

Primary Source References

1769 October 17. "Pd. Craig for mendg. microscope & perspect. glass 2/6."[1]

1786 March 21. "Pd. Dollond for ... solar microscope £5-16-6."[2]

1786 April 12. "Pd. Jones for a compound microscope £4-4."[3]

1786 April 15. "Pd. ... Jones for botanical microscope 10/ cloth do. 3/."[4]

1787 February 21. (Jefferson to Barradelle). "C’est vrai que j’avois trouvé votre Microscope superieure à toutes celles que j’avois vue. Mais avant de la voir, j’en avois acheté une à Londres, moins parfaite vraiment, mais qui suffit aux petites experiences d’une personne qui ne s’y est jamais beaucoup occupé, et qui actuellement, et pour des années à venir, ne pourra s’y occuper du tout. Ainsi, vous voyez Monsieur, que quoique votre instrument soit parfait dans son genre, ce ne pourroit m’etre actuellement d’aucune utilité: et l’acquisition entraineroit une sacrifice qui me seroit incommode dans ce moment."[5]

1788 October 2. (Jefferson to Thomas Payne, London bookseller). "When I name a particular edition of a book, send me that edition and no other. ... Adams’s essays on the microscope. 4to."[6]

1790 October 29. "Pd. Turner for mending microscope 6/."[7]

1800 September. (Jefferson's "Course of Reading" for Joseph C. Cabell). "Adams on the Microscope. 8vo."[8]

1805 May 21. (Jefferson to Benjamin Smith Barton). "Th: Jefferson presents his friendly salutations to Doctr. Barton: when sending him the dried specimens of plants from mr Dunbar he omitted to send some which he says are some of the animalculae, inhabitants of the moss. Th: J. having no microscope here has been unable to see them..."[9]

1808 June 4. (Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes). "In revising my philosophical apparatus I find I have some articles to spare which will be of use to Francis when he comes to that part of his education ... a Solar microscope in brass, with Wilson’s pocket apparatus by Dollond."[10]

[1809 ca. October 4]. (Jefferson’s List of Recommended Books). "Baker on the microscope. 8vo."[11]

1815 October 21. (Jefferson to Louis H. Girardin). "I thank you for your attention to the Microscope. it was well repaired and safely recieved."[12]

1824 April 26. (Jefferson’s Proposed List of Instruments for the Classes of Natural History & Mathematics at the University of Virginia). "Microscope, double, very powerful, not fitted as solar."[13]

Further Sources

  • University of Cambridge. Whipple Museum of the History of Science. "Microscopes." Accessed 2/6/20.


  1. ^ MB, 1:151. Transcription available at Founders Online. This is most likely a spyglass or optique.
  2. ^ MB, 1:614. Transcription available at Founders Online. This instrument projected images of small objects onto the wall, essentially using the reverse of the principles of the camera obscura, and thus could be used as a drawing aid or to demonstrate the principles of optics. Jefferson gave this instrument to Francis Wayles Eppes in 1808.
  3. ^ MB, 1:620. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  4. ^ MB, 1:621. Transcription available at Founders Online. A cloth microscope may have been a simple pin-hole type of microscope made of cloth. The botanical microscope could well be the small instrument found at Monticello. On his London trip, Jefferson bought scioptric ball and condensing lenses to help concentrate light for a compound microscope. While in Europe, he also bought a concave mirror to help enlarge images.
  5. ^ PTJ, 11:173. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  6. ^ "Adams's essays on the microscope" is George Adams, Micrographia illustrata: or, The microscope explained... (London: Printed for the author, 1771). PTJ, 13:650-51. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  7. ^ MB, 1:768. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  8. ^ PTJ, 32:178. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  9. ^ Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  10. ^ Privately owned. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  11. ^ Henry Baker, The Microscope Made Easy (London: Printed for R. Dodsley, 1744). PTJ:RS, 1:581. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  12. ^ PTJ:RS, 9:108. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  13. ^ Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. Transcription available at Founders Online.