Who Invented the Contact Lens?

Many believe the contact lens is a relatively new invention and was conceived in this century due to technology and innovation. While the contacts of today were developed not so long ago, its inception and inspiration began many centuries ago.

This probably comes as quite a shock to many; however the idea of contact lenses began with Leonardo da Vinci. In the 16th century Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of a variety of possibilities and included descriptions of them. Then, more than 100 years later Rene Descartes developed the idea of a corneal lens that would correct visual problems. Thomas Young used Descartes idea 170 years later and developed what has been considered the first lens. However, it would be in 1887 that a German glassblower would develop a contact lens that was designed to be worn and accepted by the eye. After this, the whole world began the quest to develop and improve the designs.

In the 1900s an American optometrist produced the first lens in this country and introduced the contact lens to plastic. This was a huge step and was a move away from glass contacts. The contact industry and technology continued to expand and grow and by the 1960s Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim created a soft contact lens of a water absorbing plastic. This development is what most inspired the majority of soft contacts today. The 1970s found this lens available to patients in the United States as well as the toric contact lens for patients with astigmatism.

The 1980s continued to see improvements and new options in contact wear. Soft colored contacts as well as extended wear lenses became available to the general public. Also, RGP lenses became available in these styles as well. Bifocal lenses also made their way onto the market. And fortunately for all lens wearers, the first multipurpose lens care solution became available. The 1990s continued to see an improvement on all the innovations from the ’80s and more options became available for contact lens wearers.

As you can see, there was no one inventor of the contact lens, but rather collaboration over many centuries and many individuals developing new ideas and implementing them.