The History of Contact Lenses

contact-lens-eye-640x353Imagine this; the year is 1888. As you walk around town you suddenly realize that you cannot read a single sign in the windows and have difficulty seeing farther than 40 feet away…you shudder when you think of the weight and discomfort glasses. However, luckily for you, there’s a new product available: contact lenses!

Indeed, the contact lens actually has quite a long and thoroughly developed history. In fact, the idea of the contact lens can be attributed to Leonardo da Vinci in his 1508 writing The Codex of the Eye, Manual D where he mentions altering corneal power by “wearing a water-filled glass hemisphere over the eye.” Another similar, but impractical idea was proposed by Rene Descartes in 1636 and in 1801 Thomas Young produced a prototype based on Descartes’ idea but it failed to fully correct vision and still required glasses. It wasn’t until 1845 that John Herschel presented an idea for contact lenses that would become the foundation of the modern contact lens, starting a chain of events that would revolutionize the way we see the world.

1887: F.E. Muller creates the first glass-blown contact lens that can be seen worn, seen through, and tolerated. However, there is no indication this lens provided any vision correction.

1888: A German ophthalmologist named Adolf Fick made and fitted true contact lenses out of heavy blown glass that were about 18mm thick. However, because these lenses were so large and uncomfortable they could only be worn for a few hours at a time. Also, the glass did not allow ANY oxygen to the eye.


William Feinbloom

1936: With the development of Plexiglass; William Feinbloom was able to create scleral contact lenses out of a combination or plastic and glass for a model that was lighter and exponentially more convenient than its predecessors.
1947-1949: Though the exact date is not nailed down, it is generally agreed that during this time period the first corneal contact lenses were developed. They sat on the cornea as opposed to the entire eye and were made entirely of plastic so they are infinitely more comfortable, enabling them to be utilized for up to 16 hours at a time. However, unlike many of today’s adaptations, oxygen was unable to permeate the eye.

1960’s-1970: This decade saw the advent of the rigid-gas permeable lens which maintained the rigidness of the full plastic lenses while allowing oxygen to reach the eye. These RGP lenses are still useful today in certain applications. (Development in comfort and usability continues today for RGP lenses).

1971: The first hydrogel material was approved by the FDA in the USA for use in contact lenses. Lenses made of “Soflens” were the first soft contacts in the USA —these lenses quickly exceeded RGP lenses in popularity due to their comfort and ease of use.

1972: The concept of disposable soft contact lenses was suggested for the first time.

1998: The soft contact lens was revolutionized with the development of silicone hydrogel. These newer lenses combined the performance of soft contact lenses with the incredible oxygen permeability of silicone.

2498775934_4a6a4e451a_b2014: Almost all soft lenses available today are made of silicone hydrogel. Contact manufacturers continue to develop ways of adding molecules to the silicone hydrogel to improve comfort, like the internal wetting molecules featured by such prominent brands as Acuvue.

Not many people realize that contact lenses have as long a history of steady advancement as they do; and all this development certainly benefits the consumer. Recent developments have enabled those with astigmatism to wear contacts, as well as cosmetic possibilities that temporarily change the color of the iris. Browse our selection of contact lenses to celebrate the latest advances in sight enhancement today.

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