These microscopes got their start in 1849, when Carl Kellner founded his Optical Institute. Kellner’s first achievements were improving the image quality in field glasses and telescopes. His work was a big success, and encouraged Kellner to proceed to making a new type of microscope.
Kellner’s design for the beginning Leica microscopes was based on mathematical principles that he learned through his optical work, yielding units that had outstanding image quality. The demand for early models was greater than Kellner could produce, and for the first five years the company was only able to make 130 microscopes.
Kellner eventually succumbed to tuberculosis in 1855. His widow married Friedrich Bethle, who managed to keep the Optical Institution going. At that point Bethle’s health was poor, and the company’s future was unsteady.
When Ernst Leitz joined the company in 1864, he brought along his own skills. He had studied the art of manufacturing laboratory equipment. He eventually became a partner in the company when Bethle died in 1869.
Leitz didn’t just change the company's name when he took over. He also changed the entire way the early microscopes were manufactured. Despite the Franco-Prussian War, Leitz kept the company going with his ideals for efficiency and organization.
The company grew over the following years, but the 1920’s brought big changes. Leitz’s son took over the when his father passed away, and launched the first of the Leica microscope cameras.
The camera could capture microscopic images that had to be hand drawn in previous decades. This was the first 35mm camera, but World War I prevented the camera from becoming available in mainstream markets until 1925. This step would eventually lead to the marriage of photography and microscopy that Leica microscopes are known for.
The following years were filled with successes, financial troubles, merges, and company reorganization. The company eventually split in 1977 into Leica Microsystems and Leica Geosystems.
Today these microscopes are primarily seen in research, because they are high-precision and reliable units. These microscopes are also used in health sciences, as well as raw material development and industry inspection. They come in a variety of styles that can meet the changing needs of the industry. Some examples are:
Leica microscopes started small with the simple idea of improving the image that users see. Through the years, the company has grown into an industry leader in the medical and industrial fields. Although modern day Leica models are a far cry from their early predecessors, more than ever they are bringing the microscopic world into focus.