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The History of Contacts

Late 1400s

Leonardo da Vinci is cited as the first individual to develop the concept of a contact lens based on certain sketches. It is suggested, however, that the sketches dealt with the concept of image reversal and not the concept of a contact lens.

Late 1880s

Adolf E. Fick, Eugene Kalt, and August Müller all produced glass scleral shells. Fick called them “Contactbrille” or contact spectacles, while Müller called them “Hornhautlinsen” or Corneal Lenses. Kalt was later the first to treat keratoconus by utilizing a glass shell approximating the radius of the normal cornea.


Xavier Galezowski introduced using “plaquettes” to cover the corneal surface. These were gelatin squares soaked in mercury chloride and designed to reduce the possibility of infection after cataract surgery. This was considered the first use of a “therapeutic” contact lens.

Early 1900s

German companies Carl Zeiss and Müller led the optical industry in advanced usage of scleral contact lenses. In 1931, Joseph Dallos determined that tear flow beneath the contact lens was important and published the results of his study of 120 fittings. He later added fenestrations at the corneoscleral junction of the lens, which provided the flow of oxygenated tears to the underlying cornea.


In 1934, Polymethylmethacrylate (PMMA) was the first plastic used for corneoscleral lenses. In 1948, Kevin Touhy was granted a patent for a corneal contact lens using PMMA that fit only on the cornea and not on the sclera, and became the contact lenses of choice throughout the 1950s and 1960s.


The first synthesis of a “soft” contact lens material, hydroxyethylmethacrylate (HEMA), by O. Wichterle and D. Lim (Czechoslovakian scientists) occurred in 1954. This was followed by the development of spin-casting of HEMA by Otto Wichterle, (Christmas night in 1961 using his son’s erector set). Spin-casting became an ideal way to manufacture soft contact lenses. Soft contact lenses were first introduced in the United States in 1971 by Bausch and Lomb who acquired the rights to spin-casting and HEMA in 1966 from the National Patent Development Corporation.


20/20 Optical Group estimates that the wholesale contact lens market was approximately $800,000.


20/20 Optical Group estimates that the wholesale contact lens market was approximately $480 million.


First contact lenses for overnight wear were introduced.


The first bifocal soft contact lenses were introduced (BiSoft® by CibaVision).


Enhancement tinted soft contact lenses were released (SoftColors® by CibaVision). Introduction of hydrogen peroxide care systems also occurred.


A major development occurred with the introduction of disposable soft contact lenses (Acuvue® by Vistakon).

Late 1980s

A formulation of fluorosilicone acrylate material for rigid gas permeable (RGP) lenses became available; disposable soft contact lenses were introduced, along with soft contact lenses to change eye color.


Direct contact lens distribution to patients through companies or eye care practitioners who provided this option as a value-added service increased significantly. Daily disposable lenses were introduced along with RGP lenses with low silicone content and high Dk fluorosilicone acrylates.


A new concept in extended wear (continuous wear up to 30 nights) was first approved by the FDA in the United States.


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