contact lenses in history

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History of Contact Lenses

The history of the contact lens includes some remarkable people, Leonardo da Vinci among them. It is an amazing history, beginning in 1508 and still continuing with advances today. Explore this amazing timeline.

  • 1500’s Leonardo da Vinci first explores the concept of contact lenses. He explained how immersing the eye in a bowl of water could change the power of the cornea. Leonardo sketches several forms of contact lenses.
  • Mid 1600’s Rene Descartes suggests that corneal contact lens can be used to correct eyesight. His idea describes using a glass tube filled with liquid, with an end made of clear glass. The tube was to be placed directly over the cornea. The idea worked in theory, but not practicality. The tube prevented blinking.
  • 1801 Thomas Young expands on Descartes’ idea. He designs a quarter inch glass tube filled with water fitted with a microscope at the outer end. Young uses this device to correct his own vision. Young’s invention did not correct the problems of light refraction.
  • mid-1800’s Sir John Herschel suggests two important ideas. The first is a sphere of glass filled with animal jelly. The second involves making a mold of the eye to fit the sphere exactly on the eye surface.
  • 1887-1888 Adolph Fick explains how afocal scleral contact “shells” can be placed on the less sensitive part of the eye. These workable lenses are made of heavy blown glass and cover the entire eye. The space between the glass and the cornea is filled with a sugar solution. In this same time period Muller develops a more comfortable glass blown scleral lens.
  • 1929 Dr. Dallos uses Herschel’s idea of taking a mold of the eye.
  • 1936 William Feinbloom uses Plexiglas ( polymethyl methacrylate) to make a plastic scleral lens. The center is made out of glass and the outer band is made of plastic.
  • 1945 The American Optometric Association recognizes contact lenses as an important part of the field of optometry.
  • 1948 Kevin Touhy begins making contact lenses entirely of plastic. These still cover the entire cornea. This same year, Dr George Butterfield designs a lens that sits better on the eye.
  • 1960 Otto Wichterle experiments with a soft water absorbing plastic to make contact lenses. These soft contact lenses are much more comfortable.
  • 1971 Soft contact lenses are approved by the US FDA and become commercially available through Bausch and Lomb.
  • 1978 The first toric contact lenses are approved for distribution.
  • 1979 The first rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses are made and silicone- acrylate lenses are sold.
  • 1980’s-1990’s Oxygen permeable materials or polymers are developed through out this time period. Tinted daily wear soft lenses, extended wear soft lenses, bifocal daily wear soft lenses, tinted RGP, extended wear RGP, disposable soft contact lenses, multi-purpose lenses, planned replacement lenses, daily wear two-week extended replacement lenses, all became available during this time period.
  • 1999 Silicone hydrogels become commercially available, offering extreme comfort.

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