First Contact Lenses: Who Invented and When

Though contact lenses appear to be a current phenomenon, the well-known Italian architect, mathematician and developer Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) produced the first recognized sketches (in 1508) that suggested the optics of the human eye might be modified by placing the cornea directly in contact with water.

But it’s true that when contact lenses were created genuine came much later on. Many believe da Vinci’s concepts eventually caused the advancement of contact lenses more than 350 years afterward.

When Were Contact Lenses Invented?

In 1827, English astronomer Sir John Herschel proposed the idea of making a mold of a person’s eyes. Such molds would make it possible for the production of corrective lenses that could comply with the front surface area of the eye. However it was more than 50 years later that somebody in fact produced such lenses, and there is some debate about who did it first.

Who Did Invent Contact Lenses?

Some reports say German glassblower F.A. Muller used Herschel’s concepts to develop the first known glass contact lens in 1887. Other reports say Swiss doctor Adolf E. Fick and Paris optician Edouard Kalt created and fitted the first glass contact lenses to fix vision issues in 1888.

Contact Lenses

Early glass contact lenses were heavy and covered the whole front surface of the eye, consisting of the “white” of the eye (the sclera). Due to the fact that these big “scleral” lenses significantly decreased the oxygen supply to the cornea, they might be tolerated for just a couple of hours of wear and cannot get extensive approval.

In 1936, New York optometrist William Feinbloom (1904-1985) introduced scleral lenses made from a combination of glass and plastic that were substantially lighter than older glass-blown contacts.

In 1948, California optician Kevin Tuohy (1919-1968) introduced the first contact lenses that looked like contemporary gas permeable (GP) contact lenses of today. These all-plastic lenses were called “corneal” contact lenses because they were smaller in diameter than previous contact lenses and covered just the clear front surface area of the eye (the cornea).

These early hard lenses were made of a non-porous plastic product called polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Though PMMA tough lenses were not gas-permeable, they were fitted so they might move with each blink, so oxygen-carrying tears might be “pumped” under the lens to keep the cornea healthy.

Effectively fitted, corneal PMMA contact lenses could be used for 16 hours or longer. Advances in lens manufacturing techniques and fitting know-how amongst eye medical professionals resulted in the mass appeal of these hard plastic contact lenses in the 1950s and 1960s.

Possibly the greatest occasion in the history of contact lenses was the invention of the first hydrophilic (” water-loving”) hydrogel soft contact lens product by Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim in 1959.

Wichterle and Lim’s discovery led to the 1971 launch of the first FDA-approved soft contact lenses in the United States– Bausch + Lomb’s “SofLens” brand contacts.

Since of their higher comfort, soft contacts quickly became more popular than hard contact lenses made from PMMA. Today, despite the availability of rigid gas permeable contacts that typically provide sharper vision than soft lenses and extremely good oxygen permeability, more than 90 percent of contact lenses prescribed in the United States are soft lenses.

Current turning points in the history of contact lenses in the United States consist of:

1979– The introduction of rigid gas permeable contact lenses
1981– The introduction of soft prolonged wear contacts
1982– The launch of soft bifocal contacts
1986– The introduction of prolonged wear GP contact lenses
1987– The launch of non reusable contact lenses
1995– The intro of daily disposable contact lenses
1999– The intro of silicone hydrogel contact lenses
2002– Silicone hydrogel contact lenses first marketed in U.S.
2002– Overnight orthokeratology authorized by FDA
2010– Custom-manufactured silicone hydrogel lenses introduced in U.S.

Reyus Mammadli (Eyexan Team Leader) / author of the article
Bachelor in biomedical and electrical apparatus and systems. For more than 20 years he has been studying methods to improve health using affordable and safe methods. Collaborates with eye care charity organization of the CCP. Specialization is a vision correction by laser surgery, including LASIK.
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