You may believe contact lenses you wear every day are a modern invention, but the fact is that it was Leonardo da Vinci, who had first produced the sketches of the human eye optics in 1508. As hard-to-believe as it may seem, this Italian polymath introduced the phenomenon of the tiny items that could be possibly placed directly in the eye. A lot of people nowadays tend to believe Leo’s ideas finally led to the contact lenses’ development over 350 years afterward.
In 1827, English astronomer John Hershel came up with an idea to make a mold of a human eye. These items would be used to support the corrective lenses production that would conform the person’s eye front. However, it was more than half a century ago that someone proposed the idea of the actual production of the lenses, and it’s pretty controversial.
According to the most recent reports, German glassblower F. A. Muller used some of the ideas of Herschel in order to show the first glass contact lenses to the world in 1887. At the same time, the other researches (1888) inform on French optician Edouard Kalt and Swiss physician Adolf E. Fick together creating and fitting the first glass ‘contacts’ in order to handle vision problems.
The very first ‘contacts’ were heavy. To add more, they were used to cover the whole eye surface, even the sclera (the white part of the eye). Taking into account the fact that these items were reducing the oxygen supply to the eye, one could wear them only for a few hours. For that reason these lenses never gained wide acceptance.
In 1936, optometrist from New York William Feinbloom was the one to introduce the scleral ‘lenses’ that were a combination of plastic and glass. These items were much lighter in contrast to the older ones.
In 1948, US optician Kevin Tuohy introduced the ‘contacts’ that looked quite similar to the ones that are called gas permeable contact lenses. They were called ‘corneal’ since they had a smaller diameter and covered the cornea.
These hard lenses were produced with the use of a non-porous plastic material known as PMMA or polymethyl methacrylate. Even though these lenses weren’t gas-permeable, they could move with every other eye blink. In other words, all oxygen-carrying tears could get under the ‘contacts’ in order to keep the cornea healthy.
The corneal polymethyl methacrylate contact lenses were perfect to wear for 16 hours or even more. Due to the rapid progress in the industry of lens manufacturing and the development of new techniques, these hard plastic items were highly popular in the period of ‘50’s and ‘60’s.
Probably the most significant event in the industry was the creation of the first hydrogel soft ‘contacts’ that were also called ‘water loving’. The inventors were two Czech chemists Drahoslav Lim and Otto Wichterle. The discovery made by Czech scientists in 1959 led to the invention of the first FDA-approved soft ‘contacts’ in 1971. That’s the moment of the launch of Bausch and Lomb’s ‘SoftLens’ brand in the US.
Soft contacts were really comfortable to use, which is why they became more popular than the PMMA ‘contacts.’ Nowadays, despite the rigid gas permeable contact lenses are widely available and guarantee sharper vision, over 90% of ‘contacts’ that are being prescribed in the US are the soft ones.
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