The first person credited with the idea of contact lenses, although it wasn’t his intention at the time to use it to correct refractive errors, is none other than Leonardo da Vinci! In 1508 he suggested that by putting your head in a bowl of water or holding a small bowl of water over your eye, you could modify your eyes’ optical power. But the idea was pretty impractical. About 125 years later, René Descartes, based on da Vinci’s idea, invented a tube filled with water that would be applied directly to the cornea. Since you had to hold the tube at all times and couldn’t blink, the invention wasn’t convenient. So, Thomas Young, an English scientist, made the tube smaller and stuck it to his eye using wax in 1801. As you can also guess, this idea wasn’t explored much further.

From an Idea to a Solution

Around 1845, Sir John Herschel came up with the idea to mould the eye and use the cast to create a lens out of a “transparent medium.” This idea wasn’t applied until 1929, but scleral contact lenses, meaning that they covered the white part of the eye called the sclera and the cornea, were invented in the 1880s. Who came up with the invention? That’s a great question since many sources seem to disagree! The Americans Louis J. Girard and Eugene Cult and the Germans Adolf Fick and August Müller are all named for creating the first contact lens made out of glass. The lens would include a cavity filled with liquid. Since it covered the entire eye and didn’t allow oxygen to reach its surface, these contacts would cause a lot of discomfort over time.

The Plastic Revolution

Moulds for the eyes were finally created in 1929 by Dr. Dallos and Ivan Koráromy, and the ’30s were marked by the introduction of plastic in the lenses. Dr. István Györffy is credited for the first lens completely made out of plastic. Here are videos from 1948 and 1954 showing how lenses were made at that time. We’ll warn you, although it was an advanced technique at the time, it’s not a very comfortable-looking process!

Around 1949, the first corneal lens was born. Kevin Touhy, an English Optician, discovered that a lens covering only the cornea and not the sclera would stay in place even if the patient’s eye moved or blinked. It allowed more oxygen to reach the eye so that it could be worn for more extended periods. These lenses became the new norm. The hydrogel was first invented in 1954 and used in contact lenses for the first time in the 1960s. This was ground-breaking because the lenses were now hydrated all day long and would allow five times more oxygen to reach the eye. Gas Permeable extended wear contact lenses were created in 1986, and disposable soft contact lenses in 1987. Silicone hydrogel contact lenses were introduced in 1999 and are still the most popular material for this product.

Contact lenses companies are constantly working on developing new technologies to improve their products. To learn how contact lenses are made today, you should check out this article: How are contact lenses made? You can find the contact lens brands we trust right here on our website.