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A Brief History Of Contact Lenses

With all the crazy technology we see today, you probably haven’t thought much about the small wonder that helps you see all that cool tech: your contact lenses!

The concept of the contact lens was conceived over 500 years ago! But it didn’t really become what it is today until the 20th century. Let’s learn a little bit more about the history of these amazing devices.

Contact Lenses Have Come A Long Way

Before technological advances made contact lenses possible, thinkers like Leonardo da Vinci and René Descartes experimented with water’s refractive power. In 1508, da Vinci speculated that vision could be altered when the eye was in direct contact with water. In 1636 Descartes tried placing a glass tube filled with liquid in direct contact with the cornea. There was just one problem… this made blinking impossible!

Technological Advances Put Contacts On The Map

In 1827, Sir John Herschel introduced the idea that taking a mold of the cornea would help produce lenses that could correct vision. Unfortunately, technology hadn’t quite caught up to Herschel’s vision! It wouldn’t be until the early 20th century that his theory could be tested.

Progress was made in the 1880s when glass production technologies made thin lenses possible for the first time. In 1888, Dr. Adolf Fick constructed and fitted the first successful contact lens. These lenses were thick and heavy, however, and they covered the entire eye. Because the lens was made entirely of glass, these scleral lenses didn’t allow enough oxygen to reach the eye, essentially suffocating them. After a few hours, wearing these contacts became painful.

In the 1920s and 30s, advances in materials allowed Herschel’s theory to become a reality; contact lenses were conformed to the shape of the eye for the first time and new plastics made lightweight lenses possible.

Even though contact lenses had advanced significantly by the early 20th century, all contact lenses were still scleral lenses, meaning they covered the whole eye. Finally in 1948, an optical technician named Kevin Touhy introduced the corneal lens, the smaller contact lens we see most often today.

Contact Lenses Keep Getting Better And Better

Contact lens technology has progressed immensely since its inception and continues to do so. We strive for excellence and innovation so that your contact lenses can benefit YOU. So, keep an eye out! There are exciting things in the future of contact lenses.

Our patients make our job worthwhile!

Top image by Flickr user Lee Haywood used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 4.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.
The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.