Contact lenses may seem like a relatively recent invention but they were actually first proposed by Leonardo da Vinci. Read on to find out more about the 500 year history of contacts.
It seems almost incredible that da Vinci first made mention of placing lenses directly onto the eyes way back in 1508 but the great man, who also famously made original designs for a helicopter, was clearly way ahead of his time.
In terms of the modern contact lens, the first such instrument that most of us would recognise was originally developed in 1888 by a physiologist from Switzerland named AE Fick. Fick used a method of taking moulds from the eye to ensure that the lens would fit perfectly.
His early experiments on producing such moulds were usually conducted utilising rabbits. When Fick came to use the first pair of his own lenses he found them to be very uncomfortable – hardly surprising, since they were made of glass!
Indeed, the fact that early contact lenses were made of glass was a real limiting factor. They weren’t just uncomfortable to wear – they were actually bad for the eyes if worn for any prolonged period of time.
All this was to change in the 1930s when American scientists produced the first plastic lenses. These were not, however, without their own problems. The new plastic lenses, like their glass predecessors, were designed to cover the whole eye.
Unfortunately, by covering the whole eye, these early lenses restricted the supply of oxygen, meaning that they were less than perfect.
In 1947 another American, Kevin Tuohy, came up with a lens that only covered the cornea, rather than the entire eye. His new lenses were known as corneal lenses and were similar to what we now know as “hard contact lenses”.
The invention by Tuohy formed the basis of modern contact lenses. It’s thanks to his design and the work of others before him that so many of us are now able to make use of contact lenses.
Indeed, you could say that the vision of these great inventors has helped many of us to see more clearly!