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Have Contact Lenses Been Around Since da Vinci?

Contact History

You might not believe it, but the idea for contact lenses has been around for a long time. How long, exactly? Well, the idea has been around at least since the 16th century. Who knew that this tiny, nearly-invisible eyewear that we often take for granted got its start hundreds of years ago?

It’s a long history, but we’ve highlighted some of the major moments and key people who helped us to see more clearly. It’s pretty amazing to learn how we came to have everything from disposable contacts to colored lenses to silicone hydrogel contact lenses. See what you learn, and just think how cool it is you can read this without glasses!

1508 – In addition to his other groundbreaking work in just about every other field in art and science, Italian inventor Leonardo da Vinci suggested that submerging one’s head in a bowl of water could alter the optics of the human eye. Well, maybe da Vinci didn’t crack the code to make corrected vision convenient, but he certainly took the first baby steps toward the development of modern contact lenses.

1636 – French philosopher and scientist René Descartes (who wrote the famous phrase, “I think, therefore I am”) also dabbled in contact lenses after reviewing da Vinci’s pioneering work. He experimented by placing a glass tube filled with liquid in direct contact with his cornea. It wasn’t exactly the right solution, but at least it was a step up from submerging your whole face in a bowl of water.

1827 – Is it surprising that a philosopher and an artist made some of the first advances with contact lenses? Well, now we can add an astronomer to the list. Englishman John Herschel proposed the idea of making a mold of a person’s eyes to make contact lenses. It wasn’t until half a century later that people took that idea and started trying it out.

1889August Müller from Germany fitted himself with a glass lens, but he had to insert it under water to prevent air bubbles. He even used cocaine (it was a different time) as an anesthetic, but could only tolerate the pain for half an hour. That’s a difficult contact solution, right there.

1929 – A Hungarian doctor named Joseph Dallos perfected a method of making molds from living eyes (kind of gross if you think about it). But this meant that for the first time, people could manufacture lenses that conformed to the actual shape of the eye.

1936William Feinbloom, an optometrist from New York, introduced scleral lenses made of a combination of glass and plastic. These were significantly lighter than earlier glass-blown contacts.

1959 – The Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lím invented the first water-loving hydrogel soft contact lens material. These could absorb moisture, which allowed the lenses to stay soft and supple.

1971 – The first FDA-approved soft contact lenses were launched in the United States (SofLens® by Bausch + Lomb).

1987 – A solution everyone could get behind: the introduction of disposable soft contact lenses in the United States (Acuvue® by Vistakon).

2002 – Silicone hydrogel contact lenses were first marketed in the United States. These types of lenses are advanced soft lenses that allow five times more oxygen to pass through the lens to the cornea than regular soft lenses.

2010 – Custom-manufactured silicone hydrogel lenses became available in the United States, which meant that these lenses could be custom fit to address specific eye needs.

Pretty amazing stuff, huh? If you are looking to save money on your own contact lenses or eye exam, visit VSPDirect.com for an affordable vision service plan that could help you save money on lens expenses annually. Visit us at www.vspdirect.com or call 800.785.0699 to enroll in a vision insurance plan.