When were Contact Lenses Invented?

Trying to find out when contact lenses were invented? Read on.

The famous Leonardo da Vinci, believe it or not, drew sketches of how he believed vision could be altered by placing the surface of the eye, the cornea, on water.

Some say his ideas were then used over 350 years later to create the first glass contact lenses.

But there are conflicting reports as to who actually produced the first real contact lenses and when were contact lenses invented.

Contact Lens History

As contact lens history goes, two different glass lenses were produced in the late 1800s.

One was by the German F.A Muller using the ideas of the English astronomer John Herschel who, some 50 years earlier, had suggested creating a mold to as a base shape for the production of an eye lens to correct vision. The other came from collaboration between a Swiss doctor, Adolf Fick, and a French optician, Edouard Kalt, who created and fitted a glass lens to a patient in 1887.

Who was first? When were contact lenses actually invented? Who really knows for certain but what was certain is that these early lenses were very heavy and they covered the entire surface of the eye so were probably pretty uncomfortable to wear.

Several developments then happened over the next few years until, in 1948, a Californian optician Tuohy produced what is the closest to the modern rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lens of today.

This lens was smaller than previous inventions and became known as the "corneal" lens.

It was to be another 11 years when in 1959, the first soft hydrophillic lens was produced by two Czech chemists. The rest is history as the timeline below illustrates.

Invention of Contact Lenses

So in summary here's a quick timeline for the invention of contact lenses:

  • 1508 - Leonardo da Vinci drew sketches to show how the eye's focus can be changed by placing the cornea of the eye in water.
  • 1827 - John Herschel suggested a plastic mold should be made of the eye as a basis for producing a lens that would fit correctly over the eye to correct vision.
  • 1887-1888 - the first contact lenses were produced but by whom? Controversy exists but first past the post was either the German F.A Muller or Adolf Fick and Edouard Kalt.
  • 1936 - William Feinbloom produced the first scleral contact lens.
  • 1948 - The first hard lenses were produced by Kevin Tuohy.
  • 1959 - Wichterle and Lim, chemists from Czechoslovakia, invented the first soft contact lens made of hydrogel.
  • 1971 - Bausch and Lomb launch the first FDA-approved soft contact lens in the US
  • 1979 - RGP lenses introduced.
  • 1981 - Extended wear soft lenses introduced.
  • 1982 - Bifocal contact lenses introduced.
  • 1986 - RGP Extended wear lenses launched.
  • 1987 - Disposable soft contact lenses introduced.
  • 1995 - Daily disposable lenses introduced.
  • 1999 - New highly breathable silicon hydrogel contacts launched.

Thanks to All About Vision for the detail in where contact lenses were invented.

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