Cornelis Jacobszoon Drebbel (1572 – 7 November 1633) was the Dutch builder of the first navigable submarine in 1620. Drebbel was an innovator who contributed to the development of measurement and control systems, optics and chemistry. A small lunar crater has been named after him.
Cornelis Drebbel was born in Alkmaar, Holland. After some years at the Latin school in Alkmaar, around 1590, he attended the Academy in Haarlem, also located in North-Holland. Teachers at the Academy were Hendrick Goltzius, engraver, painter and humanist, Karel van Mander, painter, writer, humanist and Cornelis Corneliszoon of Haarlem. Drebbel became a skilled engraver.
In 1600, Drebbel was in Middelburg where he built a fountain at the Noorderpoort. He met there with Hans Lippershey, spectacle maker and constructor of telescopes, and his colleague Zacharias Jansen. There Drebbel learned lens grinding and optics. Around 1604 the Drebbel family moved to England, probably at the invitation of the new king, James I of England (VI of Scotland). Drebbel also worked at the masques, that were performed by and for the court. He was attached to the court of Renaissance crown-prince Henry. In 1610 Drebbel and family were invited to come to the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. After Rudolf's death in 1612, Drebbel went back to London. Unfortunately his patron prince Henry had also died and Drebbel was in financial trouble.
In 1619 Drebbel designed and built telescopes and microscopes and was involved in a building project for the Duke of Buckingham. William Boreel, the Dutch Ambassador to England, mentions the microscope that was developed by Drebbel. Drebbel became famous for his invention in 1621 of a microscope with two convex lenses. Several authors, including Christiaan Huygens assign the invention of the compound microscope to Drebbel.
Drebbel's most famous written work was Een kort Tractaet van de Natuere der Elementen (A short treatise of the nature of the elements) (Haarlem, 1621). He was also involved in the invention of mercury fulminate. He had found out that mixtures of “spiritus vini” with mercury and silver in “aqua fortis” could explode.
Drebbel also invented a chicken incubator and a mercury thermostat that automatically kept it at a constant temperature. This is one of the first recorded feedback-controlled devices. He also developed and demonstrated a working air conditioning system. The invention of a working thermometer is also ascribed to Drebbel
He also built the first navigable submarine in 1620 while working for the English Royal Navy. Using William Bourne's design from 1578, he manufactured a steerable submarine with a leather-covered wooden frame. Between 1620 and 1624 Drebbel successfully built and tested two more submarines, each one bigger than the last. The final (third) model had 6 oars and could carry 16 passengers. This model was demonstrated to King James I in person and several thousand Londoners. The submarine stayed submerged for three hours and could travel from Westminster to Greenwich and back, cruising at a depth of from 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 metres). Drebbel even took James in this submarine on a test dive beneath the Thames, making James I the first monarch to travel underwater. This submarine was tested many times in the Thames, but it couldn't attract enough enthusiasm from the Admiralty and was never used in combat.
The story goes that, while making a coloured liquid for a thermometer Cornelis dropped a flask of Aqua regia on a tin window sill, and discovered that stannous chloride makes the colour of carmine much brighter and more durable. Although Cornelis did not make much money from his work, his daughters Anna and Catharina and his sons-in-law Abraham and Johannes Sibertus Kuffler set up a very successful dye works. One was set up in 1643 in Bow, London, and the resulting colour was called bow dye. The recipe for "colour Kufflerianus" was kept a family secret, and the new bright red colour was very popular in Europe.
Towards the end of his life, in 1633, Drebbel was involved in a plan to drain the Fens around Cambridge, while living in near-poverty running an ale house in England. He died in London. In keeping with traditional Mennonite practice, Drebbel's estate was split between his four living children at the time of his death.
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