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History of Contact Lenses

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Did you ever give thought to the invention of contact lenses, and how vision correction evolved from bulky glass lenses into the popular little discs that we all know and love? Truth is, contact lenses actually began as a bowl of water. Now that we’ve piqued your interest, you can read the full timeline of contact lenses, prepared for you by our eye doctor in Plymouth Meeting and Willow Grove, PA.

Leonardo Da Vinci and Contact Lenses

Back in the 15th century, Leonardo Da Vinci was exploring ways to enhance vision and he presented his test subject with a bowl of water in which to immerse his face. With his eyes open underwater, the man announced he could see clearer. Using that information, Da Vinci began to sketch the first designs for contact lenses.

About 350 years later, Sir John Herschel, an English physicist and astronomer, suggested a practical way to use these principles to design contact lenses. He came up with the idea of taking a mold of the eye. This mold would be used to create a corrective lens to sit on the eye’s surface. However, nobody was able to figure out how to implement this concept, because the cornea is highly sensitive and no suitable materials existed.

The First Glass Contact Lenses

A German glassblower and manufacturer of artificial eyes, F.A. Mueller, produced the first pair of glass contact lenses. They were able to be worn for only a few hours though, because they blocked oxygen from reaching the cornea. Essentially, these glass lenses were rigid, but not yet rigid gas permeable contacts!

The Move to Plastic

In 1948, Californian optician Kevin Tuohy designed the first all-plastic contact lenses, finally doing away with the bulky glass prototype. These lenses only covered the cornea of the eye, instead of fitting over the whole surface. While made of a more flexible material than glass, these plastic lenses were still nothing compared to the comfort of contemporary soft lenses.

Hello to Hydrogel

A pair of Czech chemists invented the hydrophilic hydrogel soft contacts in 1959. The release of this new material led eventually to the first FDA-approved soft contact lenses in 1971. From that point onwards, contact lenses advanced by leaps and bounds. In 1998, silicone hydrogel contact lenses were created, utilizing the higher oxygen permeability of silicone. Nowadays, silicone hydrogel lenses offer water contents as high as 46%, making them ultra-comfortable and healthy for the cornea.

Daily contacts, monthly, and bi-weekly eventually entered the scene, along with disposable dailies and colored contacts to give people a whole new look. People never had so many ways to see!

Still Going Strong: Rigid Gas Permeable Contact Lenses

Contrary to popular thought, the popularity of soft contact lenses did not push rigid gas permeable contact lenses out of sight. At the end of the 1970s, new types of oxygen-permeable (yet rigid) materials were developed for contact lenses. Commonly called RGP lenses, these were the primary kind of contact lenses worn through the 1990s. Over time, the polymers used in RGP lenses have become much more technologically advanced, with a greater quantity of silicone that adds more flexibility to hard lenses. Many people find that these rigid gas permeable lenses give crisper vision and enhanced comfort, especially for hard-to-fit vision conditions.

Contact Lenses for Everyone

When it comes to wearing contact lenses – no eyes are left behind. Nowadays, there are scleral lenses to fit keratoconus and other corneal disorders, toric lenses for astigmatism, and multifocal contact lenses for people with presbyopia.

To find the best fitting contact lenses – soft contacts, rigid gas permeable contacts, or specialty lenses – book an eye exam with our eye doctor in Willow Grove and Plymouth Meeting, PA!

Bistline Vision Care Associates


Plymouth Meeting

Appointment Form
Call 610-941-0335 ▸
Take Me There

Willow Grove
Appointment Form
Call 215-784-0160 ▸
Take Me There

Bistline Vision Care Associates

Plymouth Meeting
Call 610-941-0335 ▸
Willow Grove
Call 215-784-0160 ▸

Bistline Vision Care Associates

Plymouth Meeting
Appointment Form ▸
Willow Grove
Appointment Form ▸