Ars Technica has a great article on the history of the telescope. But there was something entirely non astronomy related that struck me:
In 1608, Hans Lipperhey in the Netherlands applied for a patent on a pair of lenses, one with a much shorter focal length than the other, arranged in a tube. He called it a “spyglass” as it allowed the observation of greatly distant events from a secluded retreat—Lipperhey noted that counting coins from afar was a suitable use. The patent was denied because the device was so very easily constructed.
The big breakthrough came when Galileo was informed of Lipperhey’s failure to secure a patent. He was certainly aware of the Venetian prowess in lens grinding, as well as work in optics that Kepler had done. Galileo decided to make such a device for himself, inspired by a mixture of Renaissance gung-ho and a desire to make his name. Presumably, he reasoned that a device able to magnify distant objects would also minimize the uncertainty in their position, providing an improved version of the wall quadrant.
That’s a frightening thought, and one I hadn’t known before. Had that patent been granted, we may never have had the revolution in science in 1609, because Galileo wouldn’t have jumped into the telescope manufacturing business. That work is what sealed the fate of the geocentric solar system, and became a great leap forward for all physical sciences.