April 3, 2021
Contact lenses may seem like a recent invention, but their history can actually be traced all the way back to the early 1500s. In 1508, Leonardo da Vinci created sketches that suggested that vision could be altered by placing the cornea directly in contact with water.
There is some debate over who created the very first pair of contact lenses. Some sources claim that a German glassblower named F.A. Muller created glass contacts in 1887. Other sources suggest that glass contacts were created by Adolf E. Fick (a Swiss physician) and Edouard Kalt (a Paris optician) in 1888. Regardless of who created the first pair, that design did not last. Since they were made of glass and completely covered the eye, it was impossible to wear them for more than a few hours at a time.
In the 1930s, William Feinbloom, a New York optometrist, created the first contact lenses that contained plastic – they were made of both plastic and glass and covered the entire eye. The new design made them lighter than the 1887/1888 version.
Big strides were made in 1948 when Kevin Tuohy, a California optician, made a pair of plastic lenses that only covered the cornea. Made from PPMA (polymethyl methacrylate), these lenses could be worn for 16+ hours per day.
In 1959, Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim, Czech chemists, invented a hydrogel soft contact lens material. This invention led to Bausch + Lomb’s “SoftLens” contacts being approved by the FDA in 1971.
Things began to move more quickly after that:
Daily lenses (soft contact lenses that you wear once then throw away) made their debut in 1996. Then in 2002, silicone-hydrogel contact lenses started selling in the U.S.
It’s clear that contact lenses have gone through some remarkable developments throughout the centuries. Today, soft contact lenses are the most popular type of lens – constituting more than 90% of contact lens prescriptions in the US.
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