The use of contact lenses today is a very common and normal thing. Their history is long and dates back from the early 16th century. Only few people know that the creator of the contact lens, one of the most common and very useful tool, was the mysterious Leonardo da Vinci, who made a record and schematic drawings of glass shells on the eye, in 1508.
Delighted with this, the French philosopher René Descartes wrote about the discovery of Leonardo, in his “Diopter“. He described a tube filled with water which acts as an optical instrument. Descartes, in fact, demonstrated the principles of the telescope, rather than contact lenses.
It is often mistakenly stated that the first contact lens designer was Philip de la Hire. However, in his dissertation he actually talks about the use of eyeglass lenses and their different curves.
Thomas Young (1801), following Descartes, filled the tube with water to study the process of accommodation of the eye. However, neither Descartes nor Hire, nor Young didn’t specifically work on Leonardo’s idea of contact lenses, but they certainly prepared the ground for development of this idea, which was already elaborated by an English astronomer Sir John Herschel. He was probably the first who described the concept of cosmetic lenses, so many people consider him the father of contact lenses.
Further development of usage of contact lenses for therapeutic purposes was monitored by Cooper (1859) and Galexowski (1886).
German ophthalmologist, Adolf Fick (1888) worked on the glass contact lenses for vision correction, which was originally tested on rabbits, and then on humans. He became the official inventor of contact lenses, because he patented them as his own invention.
The path to this lens for vision correction lasted throughout the 19th century. Many people worked on the perfection of these lenses – Kalt (1888) was improving vision in patients, August Muller (1889) who managed to perform first optical correction of personal myopia, Sulzer (1892) by considering the fluid, liquid lenses, Dor (1892) who was the first to use saline solution, similar to tear instead of glucose solution. Lohnstein Thomas (1896) who invented “water glasses” filled with a solution of salt… However, previous inventions were not enough that these contact lenses could really help people and ease their lives.
During the 1910 The FA Muller & Sons published the work “Artificial Eye“. As they perfected the manufacture of glass lenses , they were getting special orders and so became represented on the market. Their rival was a Zeiss (1911), whose optical lenses were better, which were perfected by Leopold Heine (1930). Joseph Dallos (1930) noted how significant role tears have in usage of contact lenses. Big laboratory committed to improving glass “Müller – Welt“, developed the Dallos theory of tear contact between the eye and the lens.
But the real spectacle and the evolution of contact lenses in the world occurred in the 30′s of the 20th century, the invention of plastic, based on acrylic resins, PMMA precursor, the so-called plexiglass. This soft and rubbery material immediately showed a number of advantages over glass. In 1934 PMMA was already patented, and in 1936 the first plastic contact lenses were created. Many have started to research and manufacture these lenses, like Feinbloom and Mullen’s. Lenses that were made up to then, both glass and plastic ones, covered the entire eye surface. It was made just in 1948 that contact lenses covered only the cornea and were certainly far more comfortable to wear.
Development and improvement of contact lenses in the 20th century were related primarily with materials that were becoming increasingly better, so in 1971 people learned about soft contact lenses (hydrogel polymer – plastic water content), in 1978 for GP contact lenses, since 1981 contact lenses could be worn during the night, and since 1987 soft lenses were interchangeable, and that same year was the one when the new material came into our lives – fluoro-silicone resin, from which a new generation of GP contact lenses emerged.
New millennium – new materials… The year of 2002 brought many new things, silicone-hydrogel, that is, for now, the highlight of the production and use of contact lenses. These lenses are now customized for each carrier. The fact is that the vision correction can now be solved painlessly through the laser surgery, but silicone-hydrogel lenses provide incredible comfort throughout the day. Unlike all the former kinds of lenses, these lenses leak oxygen in larger quantities so you can wear them for longer time. There are lenses that protect the eyes from UV radiation and thus you don’t need sunglasses. Today’s contact lenses gave people the opportunity to function normally and lead a completely normal life.
Oh, how complicated this seemed before, and now we can change the eye color using the contact lenses, depending on the color of the dress we want to wear. Wonderful, is not it? But… Perhaps we exaggerate a bit?