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October 30, 2023

Making Contact Lenses in 1948

The process of making contact lenses in 1948 was quite different from today’s methods. The eye was anesthetized, then the optician used an “impression cup” to make a cast of the eyeball. After two minutes, the cup was removed from the eyeball. The mold was used to shape a piece of flexible plastic, which experts then ground and polished so the lens fits an exact prescription.

The idea behind contact lenses dates all the way back to Leonardo da Vinci. In a 1509 manual, da Vinci noted that he could alter his vision by sticking his face in a bowl of water. During the next few centuries, inventors sketched ideas such as “tubes held snug to the eyelids” and “capsules filled with animal jelly,” but the contact lens wasn’t actually manufactured until 1887.

In 1948, optical technician Kevin Tuohy developed a smaller lens that only covered the cornea, which allowed people to wear lenses for longer periods of time. Further innovation came from Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drashoslav Lím, who invented the breathable plastic material that led to soft lenses in the 1960s.


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