Contact lenses have brought new-found sight and vision to millions of people since their invention. However, what many people do not know is the vast number of design changes and inventors it had to pass before getting the final product we have today.
Bowls of Water and Humble Beginnings
Since the beginning of time, there have always been people with vision defects, and there has always been a great need to find a solution to their impairment. Leonardo da Vinci, of painting and inventing fame, first took on the problem by letting a man with corneal defect place his face into a bowl of water. When the man experienced clearer vision while peering into the bowl, the concept of using artificial refraction to improve eyesight was born.
Obviously, people couldn’t simply carry around a bowl of water wherever they went if they wanted to see clearly. Soon, inventors like Renee Descartes began trying to create blueprints for lenses which could be put onto the eye and be used without encumbering the individual. Unfortunately, the technology at the time was limited, and no feasible way to create a functioning contact lens existed at the time. The concept of contact lenses was temporarily placed onto the shelf and spectacles remained the only way to improve vision.
Getting a Real Eyeful: The First Contact Lens
In the 1800’s, technology began to advance to a point where functioning contact lenses could be created. Improvements in glass molding technology, anesthesia, and medicine allowed for contact lenses to leave the blueprints and enter reality. Adolf Fick, August Mueller and Eugene Cult are all attributed to having developed the first glass contact lenses. In a sense, they worked under the same principle da Vinci had used with the bowl of water – altered refraction of light through glass and onto the eye. These were used for several years and became widely used during WWI and onwards.
In spite of this technological marvel, glass contact lenses were incredibly uncomfortable and difficult to use. Placing them in and taking them out were a struggle, and a slip of the fingers or a knock to the back of the head would cause the extremely expensive pieces to break. Many people considered them a luxury and too impractical for common use. They also could not be used by people with physical defects to the eye and more complex vision impairment.
Graceful Under Pressure: Plastic Contact Lenses
As time went on, new technology and the widespread availability of plastics made contact lens makers reconsider their material and design. Soon enough, plastic lenses began replacing glass lenses across the world. The reason was simple – plastic was lighter, more durable, more resistant to damage, more comfortable and much easier to mold than glass. Another reason why they became popular was their aesthetic appearance. For the first time in history, people started putting down their spectacles and putting on contact lenses because they looked better and more attractive.
As time went on, the contact lens continued to evolve. Newer plastic contact lenses became smaller and more attractive than any of their predecessors. Better fitting and molding technology allowed for thinner lenses and a wider user base. By the 1950’s, contact lenses had become so easy to use and so inexpensive to purchase that they became just as widespread in usage as traditional glasses.
Contact Lenses Today
From their creation to present day contact lenses, there have been remarkable changes. Modern contact lenses can be worn throughout the entire duration of the day and hold proper form and shape for extended periods of time. Contact lenses are now used to treat a wide variety of vision defects and are designed to meet the specific and unique needs of their owners. Only time will tell what technology has in store for contact lenses, in the future.