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Contact Lenses


Inventing the Contact Lens

Photo courtesy Proclear Encyclopaedia
Leonardo da Vinci
Contact lenses might seem like a modern invention, but the idea has actually been around for hundreds of years. Artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci sketched a concept for improving vision with a contact lens in 1508, and philosopher René Descartes suggested a similar concept in 1632. Thomas Young took the idea a step further in 1801, creating a water-filled glass tube attached to a tiny lens, which he fitted over his own eye.

A wearable contact lens wasn't made until the late 19th century, however. English astronomer Sir John Herschel came up with the idea of taking a mold of the eye to make the lens conform to the eye's surface. Then in 1887, a German doctor named Adolf Eugen Fick created the first contact lens that could correct nearsightedness and farsightedness. He first tried his lens out on animals. His lenses were effective, but they covered the entire eyeball and were so heavy that the wearer could only tolerate them for a few hours. In 1889, A German glassblower named F.A. Muller improved upon the glass lens by making it thinner and lighter.

In 1936, a New York optometrist named William Feinbloom introduced the idea of including plastic to make the lens more wearable. However, the lens still sat flat on the cornea, which was uncomfortable and didn't provide the best possible vision correction. In 1948, California optician Kevin Tuohy began making contact lenses entirely out of plastic. They were still bigger than the cornea, but smaller than previous lenses.

Improvements came with a lens shaped more like the cornea in the 1950s. During the 1950s and 60s, lenses became smaller and thinner. For the first time these hard lenses could be worn all day, but they were still uncomfortable to some people. The soft lens became commercially available in the United States in 1971. The 1980s saw the introduction of the color-tinted contact lens, the disposable lens and the extended-wear lens. According to the FDA, 82 percent of contact lens wearers today wear soft contacts [ref].

For lots more information on contact lenses and vision correction, check out the links on the next page.