When Were Contact Lenses Invented? A History of the Earliest Contacts

material and design og contact lenses

Contact lenses have come a long way since their inception in the late 1800s. Many early pioneers helped progress contact lens technology to where it is today. Let’s take a look back at some of the key milestones in the history of contact lenses.

The Conceptualization: Leonardo da Vinci’s Initial Vision (1508)

The concept of contact lenses can be traced back to the iconic polymath, Leonardo da Vinci. In 1508, he illustrated the concept of altering corneal power by submerging one’s head in a bowl of water or wearing a water-filled, glass hemisphere over the eye. Though not practical, da Vinci’s sketches were the first known ideation of manipulating vision directly at the corneal surface.

René Descartes’ Follow-up (1636)

The next significant development came in 1636, when the French philosopher René Descartes proposed the idea of a glass tube filled with liquid, placed directly on the cornea to correct vision. However, like da Vinci’s concept, it was impractical, as it prevented blinking.

The First ‘Modern’ Contact Lens

The first known contact lens was developed in 1887 by German glassblower F.A. Muller. He had the idea to make a scleral contact lens from glass to correct his own vision problems. Scleral lenses rest on the sclera or white part of the eye and vault over the cornea. Muller’s handblown glass lenses were large and covered the entire eye. They had to be custom fitted for each eye.

In 1888, Muller collaborated with physician Adolf Gaston Eugen Fick to test the lenses on patients. Fick conducted one of the first clinical trials of contact lenses by fitting three patients with the blown glass scleral lenses. The experiment showed promise in correcting vision, but the glass lenses were far from comfortable or practical.

Corneal Contact Lenses Emerge

In the 1930s, a big shift happened with the invention of corneal contact lenses. These smaller lenses rested directly on the cornea, the clear front part of the eye. Ophthalmologist William Feinbloom and optometrists Earle Dermatt and Joseph Dallos played key roles in developing some of the first experimental corneal lenses made from plastic.

PMMA Becomes Standard

TheMaterial polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) became the standard plastic for rigid contact lenses in the 1940s and 1950s. Optometrist Kevin Tuohy made custom molded PMMA lenses for his patients. He collaborated with a chemist to develop a technique using heat to shape the curved surface of the plastic to fit the eye. These custom molded PMMA corneal lenses improved comfort and vision for many wearers.

Soft Lenses Emerge

The first soft contact lenses were developed in the 1960s, which were a huge breakthrough in comfort. Optometrists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lím made the first successful soft hydrogel lenses. By the 1970s, soft disposable contact lenses became widely available.

With advanced technologies and new materials, contact lenses continue to evolve today. But we owe thanks to these early pioneers who helped turn the idea of contact lenses into a practical vision correction solution used by millions worldwide. From blown glass scleral lenses to soft disposable lenses, contact lens history shows a fascinating progression in eye care innovations.

Summary of some of the key milestones in the history of contact lenses:

  • 1508: Leonardo da Vinci sketches a design for a water-filled glass lens.
  • 1887: F.A. Müller creates the first contact lens, which is made of blown glass and covers the entire eye.
  • 1888: Adolf Eugen Fick creates the first contact lens that is specifically designed to correct vision.
  • 1936: William Feinbloom creates the first plastic contact lenses.
  • 1950s: Otto Wichterle invents the first soft contact lenses.