Contact Lens History Back

You may be surprised to learn that the Italian inventor, artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci is credited with describing and sketching the first ideas for contact lenses in 1508! But it was more than 300 years later before contact lenses were actually fabricated and worn on the eye.
The Early Years
- Glass Contact Lenses In 1827, English astronomer Sir John Herschel came up with the idea of making a mold of the wearer's eyes so contact lenses could be made to conform perfectly to the eye's surface.

In the 1887, German glassblower F.A. Muller used Herschel's ideas to create the first known glass contact lens.

Shortly thereafter, Swiss physician A.E. Fick and Paris Optician Edouard Kalt are credited with fitting the first glass contact lenses to correct nearsightedness and farsightedness. These heavy glass lenses covered the entire front surface of the eye and could be tolerated for only a few hours of wear.

The Introduction of Hard Plastic Lenses In 1936, New York Optometrist William Fein bloom introduced the use of plastic in contact lens manufacturing. Fein bloom's lenses had a central portion made of glass that covered the cornea and a peripheral band of plastic that covered the sclera. In 1948, California optician Kevin Tuohy began manufacturing contact lenses made completely of plastic. His lenses were smaller in diameter than Fein bloom's lenses, but they still covered the entire cornea.

Later the same year, Oregon optometrist George Butterfield improved Tuoy's lens design, adding flatter peripheral curves to the lens so it more closely matched the shape of the cornea and would not pop off so easily.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, hard plastic lenses were made smaller and thinner, evolving into hard lens designs that are still used today.

The Soft Contact Lens Revolution
Despite continual improvements in hard contact lens designs, these lenses remained quite difficult for many people to wear comfortably.

In the late 1950s, Czechoslovakian chemist Otto Wichterle and his assistant Dr. Drahoslav Lim began to experiment with methods to produce contact lenses using a soft, water-absorbing plastic called hydroxyethyl methacrylate (HEMA) that Dr. Lim created in 1945.

In 1961, using his son's erector set and parts from a bicycle, Dr. Wichterle created the prototype of a spin-casting machine and used it to produce the world's first soft contact lenses.

Dr. Wichterle's work later resulted in the introduction of the first commercially available soft contact lenses by Bausch & Lomb in 1971.

Because they are thinner and more comfortable than hard contact lenses, the introduction of soft lenses enabled thousands more people to become successful contact lens wearers. Today approximately 90% of contact lenses sold in the United States are soft lenses.

Highlights in Contact Lens History
  • 1508 Leonardo da Vinci describes and sketches the first ideas for contact lenses.
  • 1632 French mathematician Rene Descartes suggests placing a lens directly on the eye to correct vision.
  • 1827 English astronomer Sir John Herschel proposes making a mold of the wearer's eyes so contact lenses can be made to conform perfectly to the front of the eye.
  • 1887 German glassblower F.E. Muller produces the first glass contact lens.
  • 1888 Swiss physician A.E. Fick and Paris optician Edouard Kalt report using glass contact lenses to correct vision.
  • 1929 Hungarian physician Joseph Dallos introduces an improved method to take molds of living eyes so contact lenses can be made to fit more closely to the eye.
  • 1936 New York optometrist William Fein bloom produces the first contact lens containing both glass and plastic.
  • 1948 California optician Kevin Tuohy begins manufacturing contact lenses made entirely of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) plastic.
  • 1950 Oregon optometrist George Butterfield designs a plastic contact lens with multiple inside curves for better fitting characteristics and increased comfort.
  • 1956 Czech chemist Otto Wichterle begins making contact lenses with a soft, water-absorbing plastic he helped create.
  • 1971 The first commercially available soft contact lens is introduced in the United States by Bausch & Lomb.
  • 1978 The first toric soft contact lens is introduced in the U.S. for the correction of astigmatism.
  • 1979 The first rigid gas permeable (RGP) hard contact lens is introduced.
  • 1981 Extended wear soft contact lenses are introduced.
  • 1991 Frequent replacement soft contact lenses are introduced.
  • 1992 Disposable soft contact lenses are introduced.
  • 1995 One-day disposable soft contact lenses are introduced.
  • 1999 Disposable bifocal soft contact lenses are introduced.