Contact Lens History

There are a number of reasons for choosing to color your eyes with contact lenses. Before we go any further into the “why” of the subject, let’s look at the “what”. First of all, what is a contact lens? This may seem like a no-brainer, but have you ever stopped to consider what contacts are and how they might affect you?

Modern contacts are safe and comfortable to use, but it wasn’t always this way. Here’s an abbreviated time line based on information provided by the Contact Lens Council:


1508 – Contact lenses were first conceived by the Italian inventor Leonardo DaVinci. They were one of many invention ideas he developed sketches and descriptions of.

1632 – Rene Descartes of France suggested the idea corneal contact lens, a lens designed to be placed within the eye.

1827 – English astronomer Sir John Herschel (Side note: This is the same man who discovered the planet Uranus, which was originally named after him) suggested grinding a glass contact lens to conform exactly to the eye’s surface.

1877 – Glassblower F.E. Muller of Wiesbaden, Germany, developed this idea into reality and produced the first glass eye covering designed to be seen through and tolerated. This would be the first hard contact lens in history. Let it also be noted that this type of lens was somewhat uncomfortable and could cause eye redness and excessive tear production.

The twentieth century saw the full refinement of the contact lenses that we enjoy today. Many modern day manufacturing techniques and man-made products (such as plastics and silicone) go towards making contacts that the body can easily tolerate and which are much more comfortable to wear for extended periods.

1929 – Joseph Dallos, a Hungarian physician, developed methods of taking molds from living human eyes so that glass lenses could be made to conform more closely to individual sclera. Seven years later, William Feinbloom, a New York optometrist, introduced the use of plastic for contacts.

1950 – an Oregon optometrist, Dr. George Butterfield, designed a corneal lens. The inner surface of this lens followed the eye’s shape instead of sitting flat, increasing comfort and eye tolerability. This also reduced problems with image and peripheral vision distortion in certain prescription types

1960 – Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim experimented with contact lenses made of a soft, water-absorbing plastic they had developed. This was the major step leading to the soft and disposable lenses that we have today. The water absorption helped with eye dryness problems that could lead to irritations, eye tiredness and focusing problems.

1979 – Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses made of co-polymers PMMA and silicone became available for commercial distribution in. Many silicone-acrylate lenses become available at this time as well. Gas permeability allows the eye to maintain it’s natural moisture and to refresh it’s surface tear layer without hindrance.

1980 – A tinted daily wear soft lens becomes available for commercial distribution. This is one of the first soft colored contact lenses on the market.

1982 – Bifocal daily wear soft contact lenses becomes available for commercial distribution.

1988 – True disposable lenses become commercially available to the public.

1992 – Disposable tinted contact lenses available on the market.

1996 – First disposable lenses using ultra-violet absorber are available in the U.S.