1699 - 1600United Kingdom

On September 17, 1683, Leeuwenhoek wrote to the Royal Society about his observations on the plaque between his own teeth, “a little white matter, which is as thick as if ’twere batter.” He repeated these observations on two ladies (probably his own wife and daughter), and on two old men who had never cleaned their teeth in their lives. Looking at these samples with his microscope, Leeuwenhoek reported how in his own mouth:

“I then most always saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving. The biggest sort. . . had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water. The second sort. . . oft-times spun round like a top. . . and these were far more in number.” In the mouth of one of the old men, Leeuwenhoek found “an unbelievably great company of living animalcules, a-swimming more nimbly than any I had ever seen up to this time. The biggest sort. . . bent their body into curves in going forwards. . . Moreover, the other animalcules were in such enormous numbers, that all the water. . . seemed to be alive.”

These were among the first observations on living bacteria ever recorded.

Leeuwenhoek looked at animal and plant tissues, at mineral crystals and at fossils. He was the first to see microscopic foraminifera, which he described as “little cockles. . . no bigger than a coarse sand-grain.” He discovered blood cells, and was the first to see living sperm cells of animals. He discovered microscopic animals such as nematodes and rotifers.