Contact Lens History
While most of the advancements in contact lenses have been in the past few decades, many people may not realize just how far back contact lens history actually goes. Here's a timeline for you that dates back as early as the 16th century, beginning with none other than the great Leonardo Da Vinci!
Significant hallmarks associated with the dates represented are added both for interest's sake and to help you to keep perspective on the timeline.
Leonardo da Vinci envisions a water-filled glass tube that can be placed directly on the eye to improve vision and sketches his designs.
This same year, Michelangelo begins his work on the Sistine Chapel.
Over 100 years later, Rene Descartes describes a corneal contact lens, which is basically a water-filled ¼" tube placed on the clear part of the front of the eye.
This same year, Galileo publishes a most controversial book announcing his theory that the Earth revolves around the sun.
Finally, after nearly two centuries, Thomas Young corrects his own vision by building the lens described by Rene Descartes.
This same year, Thomas Jefferson becomes President of the United States.
Sir John Herschel is the first to design a lens that conforms perfectly to the surface of the eye. This is accomplished by grinding the lens down.
This same decade, the first permanent photograph was successfully produced.
A glassblower by the name of F. E. Muller produces a transparent glass lens to be worn on the eye. The original purpose of this lens was simply for protection of a diseased eye.
This same year, Anne Sullivan meets Helen Keller.
Just one short year later, two separate researchers report use of contact lenses to correct for optical defects: Eugene Fick of Switzerland and Edouard Kalt of France.
This same year, Jack the Ripper is terrifying the streets of London.
A man named Joseph Dallos perfects a method of producing molds of human eyes as a way to tailor each contact lens to fit a person's sclera more closely. While this enabled a better-fitting contact lens, the process was most uncomfortable for the patients, as were the contacts they produced! These contacts were made of glass and covered the whole eye (both the sclera and the cornea). They were heavy and could only be worn for a few hours.
This same year, Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Walters are born.
The first American-made contact lens is produced by William Feinbloom of New York. He is also the first to introduce plastic as a possible contact lens material.
Obrig and Mullen take Feinbloom's idea one step further and produce contact lenses made up entirely of plastic. It is a material known as PMMA (polymethylmethacrylate). PMMA was a truly revolutionary new material for the eye care field, as it also became the material for the first intra-ocular lens (IOL), which is the 'pseudo' lens that is placed inside the eye following cataract surgery.
This same year, the first Superman comic is issued by Action Comics.
Kevin Tuohy produces the first corneal contact lens. These significantly improved comfort levels while wearing the lenses. These lenses were not ideal, however, as the material (PMMA) was not permeable, so the eyes were at risk of infection and damage. Ronald Reagan wore these lenses.
This same year, Howard Hughes takes the Spruce Goose on its maiden flight.
The first soft contact lens is born. Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim fabricate a new plastic material (HEMA) made up largely of water, allowing the material to be pliable when wet.
This same year, Oprah is born and Sports Illustrated publishes its debut issue.
Wichterle goes on to develop the process of spin-casting, which ends up being an ideal way to mass-produce contact lenses.
This same year, John F. Kennedy becomes the President of the United States.
Baush and Lomb are the first to make
soft contact lenses
This same year, Charles Manson and his Family are prosecuted and sentenced to life in prison.
(for astigmatism) is commercially available in the United States.
This same year, Karol Wojtyla becomes Pope John Paul II.
The first RGP
(rigid gas permeable)
lens becomes available. These were made up of co-polymers of silicone and PMMA.
extended-wear contact lenses
are introduced. They were originally approved for 30-day continuous wear, but due to health concerns, this was changed to 7 days.
This same year, Prince Charles and Lady Diana are married.
Bifocal contact lenses
This same year, Cheers and Family Ties debut on NBC.
Disposable soft contact lenses
become commercially available. Contacts that change eye color are also introduced.
Daily disposable soft contact lenses
This same year, OJ Simpson is put on trial and found 'not guilty' for the deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Robert Goldman.
UV-absorbing contact lenses
are made commercially available.
This same year, a sheep by the name of Dolly (the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell) is born.
made of a new material (fluoro-silicone hydrogel) are approved for 30-day continuous wear.
This same year, George W. Bush succeeds Bill Clinton as the President of the United States.
Current contact lens research focuses on improving the permeability of contact lenses, which will significantly reduce a huge number of the common complaints associated with contact lens wear (eg. uncomfortable, dry, irritated eyes). Ortho-K lenses are also a big area of research, as they offer a surgery-free alternative to great vision.