This story is about the hard luck, hard times and unbreakable friendship between two men who traversed from Germany to America to make a better life for themselves. They were, above all, devoted to assisting people to see better and continually worked towards a future with better vision and clarity. Today, they are responsible for such popular lenses as the PureVision Multifocal and PureVision Toric.
The narrative begins with the introduction of Jacob Bausch. Bausch lost his mother as a child; escaped a famine and a plague; grew up in poverty and lost two fingers from is hand – and despite, or because, of all this, he managed to build Bausch & Lomb, the world’s largest supplier of eye health products and contact lenses to date.
Bausch’s Voyage to America
Born the son of a baker in 1830, Jacob Bausch had nine siblings whose mother passed away when they were young. At 18, Jacob set out on his own during a dreadful famine, as revolutions were breaking out across Germany. He found a position in Switzerland working in a small optical store where he earned his living making eyeglasses for six cents a pair. Bausch saved his six cent increments to start a new life of opportunity by paying passage to America.
The Optometrist Assistant was advised to find work in Buffalo, New York – and that advice couldn’t have been worse. Bausch was greeted at the city of Buffalo by a raging cholera epidemic. Crime was on the uptick and the naive teenager lost all of his clothes, shoes and watch while asleep one night. This setback led Bausch to borrow five dollars from a friend to travel to Rochester, where he found work as a wood turner. He saved up money from this job for a year to support himself and his new wife, when not two months later, an accident with a buzz saw cost Bausch two fingers on his right hand. His career in wood turning was ended – but while it took four months to convalesce, the couple’s employer was most kind and collected money from the community to help them out. That employer was a fellow German immigrant named Henry Lomb.
A Lifelong Partnership is Born
The collaboration that first initiated the empirical optical company was Henry Lomb’s $60 loan to J.J. Bausch after his accident, as it allowed Bausch to begin his optical business. Since times were tough, a grateful Bausch invited Lomb to live with him and his wife. For years Lomb continued working as a carpenter, but he continually invested in the optical business until1861, when President Lincoln asked for volunteers to fight in the Civil War. Henry Lomb was among the first to enlist. At the time that Lomb left to fight in the Union Army, the optical company was barely surviving and Bausch’s debt to Lomb had increased to $1,000 dollars.
Things began to look up after a particularly significant discovery Bausch made while Lomb was away. He realized that Vulcanized rubber – the popular plastic of the day – was perfect for making eyeglass frames. After all, it was already being used in jewelry, dentures, cobs and other products. At first, Bausch carved the rubber into eyeglass frames. Later he discovered that melting it on the family stove and hand-forming it into frames worked better. Eventually, Bausch designed a hand punch press for stamping the eyeglass frames out of the plastic.
From Bausch & Lomb to American Rubber (and Back Again)
When Lomb returned from the war, Bausch made him a partner in his optical side business and renamed it the Bausch & the Lomb Optical Company. By 1866, their rubber-framed spectacles were in such demand that the partners opened up a location in the Big Apple, and Henry Lomb moved there to run it.
After the company became established, Henry Lomb, still passionate about the welfare of his employees, embarked on a series of charitable works that influenced not only the company, but also the municipalities that they were located in. Among Lomb’s innovations was the first company lunchroom, followed by sick benefits to support those unable to work due to illness. After serving in the military, Lomb created a program known as the Grand Army of the Republic that organized the public and parochial school children to plant flowers on the graves of soldiers on Memorial Day. Lomb also helped his community by introducing kindergartens to the Rochester New York public school system; he built a free dental clinic in the city, and if that weren’t enough, he founded the Rochester Public Health Association.
Despite introducing triumphant humanitarian programs that had lasting social impact, Bausch and Lomb were not without their own difficulties. In 1866, Bausch & Lomb negotiated the rights to manufacture optical instruments of Vulcanite from its producer, the American Rubber Company. They actually dissolved their own Bausch & Lomb Optical Company brand and established the Vulcanite Optical Company, with J.J. Bausch and Henry Lomb controlling only two fifths of the stock (the rest was owned by American Rubber). As the years continued on, Bausch invented and experimented with water-powered lens grinding machines.
In 1885, the American Rubber Company’s patents expired. By this time, the vision business was so lucrative that Bausch and Lomb were forced to pay almost eight times the initial worth of the stock to reclaim it all. Recapturing the rights to their brainchild, the friends converted the company to its prior moniker: Bausch & Lomb Optical Company.
Innovation Beyond Optics
Innovation was always Bausch’s passion, and that nature was passed onto his son, Edward. When Edward was of age, he began to expand the company’s product line by developing photographic lenses. Photographic lenses at that time used a diaphragm that controlled the size of the aperture, or opening, and a shutter that controlled the length of the exposure. In 1887, Edward Bausch patented the “between-the-lens” iris diaphragm and shutter. The new iris-style diaphragm allowed the photographer to adjust the size of the aperture and open and close the lens according to the desired exposure times. This design led to future innovations that would enhance modern photography.
In the 1930s, the U.S. armed forces made vision examination mandatory, and Bausch & Lomb partnered with the military to provide the testing equipment they needed. Many of these devices have found their way in doctors’ offices across the United States and around the world. With the outbreak of World War II, Bausch & Lomb once again expanded its production capacities, overseeing a whole host of inventions through development, from searchlights and signal light mirrors, gun sights, range finders, lenses for aerial mapping cameras and microscopes to binoculars. Today’s popular Ray-Ban eye frames are the relatives of past Bausch & Lomb aviator goggles, first produced for pilots in the 30’s.
In 1950’s Hollywood, movie producers had already grown accustomed to using movie cameras created by Bausch & Lomb. The duo began experimenting with ways in which to make movie viewing even more exciting than television. In 1952, Bausch & Lomb developed the introduction of the Cinemascope lens for 20th Century Fox. This was the beginning of widescreen theatre as we know it today.
Bausch & Lomb’s Ongoing Legacy
Over a hundred years later, the partnership of John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb that was founded on 60 dollars and a handshake has grown to employ over 1,000 people throughout Chicago, Paris, Philadelphia and New York. Company leaders still are predominantly comprised of family members in order to ensure that the original purpose of the organization lives on.
J.J. Bausch and Henry Lomb built more than a company. Never giving up, and never turning their back on a friend, the two managed to create Bausch & Lomb, one of the best known and most respected names in the healthcare industry today.