History of Contact Lenses - Start From 135 Years Ago

02.03.2023 | Leah | TTDeye Care

Here is a greeting from 2024! How is your holiday?

A new year calls for beauty resolutions, and one of TTDeye is to try more colors and offer better service. The key to our success has been your support. You have been great customers. Greetings for a prosperous and peaceful New Year. Best wishes for the coming year!

As the year 2024 comes, “contact lens” is also celebrating its 135th birthday. Contact lenses are something that most people wear every day, and never give any thought to where they came from or how we got to the type of contacts that are in use today. What started as an idea from Leonardo da Vinci has now evolved into the concept of disposable contacts today. Today, we’ll give you an overview of the history of contact lenses.

Development of Contact Lenses

1887   First contact lens manufactured from glass and fitted to cover the entire eye

There is some controversy over who created the first pair of lenses. Some sources believe it to be German glassblower F.A. Muller, but others point to Swiss physician Adolf E. Fick and Paris optician Edouard Kalt.

These early glass contacts were thick, heavy, and covered the entire eye, including the sclera (the white of the eye), hence they were referred to as “scleral lenses”. Since they covered the whole eye, oxygen to the eye was cut off, and they could only be worn for a few hours. These lenses did not gain widespread acceptance.


1936   Contact lenses were first made from plastic

New York optometrist William Feinbloom introduced the first scleral lenses to be made from a combination of glass and plastic. These lenses were significantly lighter than their predecessor.


Late 1930s   First colored contacts were introduced

Colored contacts were introduced in the late 1930s when a Metro Goldwyn Meyer (MGM) makeup artist approached a Beverly Hills ophthalmologist about the possibility of changing an actor’s eye color from brown to blue in an upcoming movie. The movie “Miracles for Sale” made history as the first to utilize color tinted contacts cosmetically. Since that time hundreds of movie effects were made possible by the actor wearing colored lenses.

Not only did they allow moviemakers to change an actor’s eye color from brown to blue or blue to green, but colored contacts also opened the door for makeup artists who were able to implement characteristics for actors beyond eye color. 


1948   Plastic contact lenses designed to cover only the eye’s cornea

California optician Kevin Tuohy created the first lenses that resemble the ones that exist today. These all plastic “corneal” lenses covered only the cornea of the eye. These lenses were made of a non-porous plastic material called polymethyl methacrylate (PPMA). While these lenses still did not allow for gas permeation, they moved with each blink so oxygen carrying tears were able to get under the lens to keep the cornea healthy. Properly fitted PPMA lenses could be worn for 16 hours or longer.


1959   First hydrophilic lenses

Czech chemists Otto Wichterle and Drahoslav Lim invented the first hydrogel soft contact lens material, perhaps the biggest advancement in contact history.

1971   Introduction of soft contact lenses

Wichterle and Lim’s discovery led to the launch of the first FDA-approved soft contact lenses in the United States. Bausch & Lomb, Inc. brought the technology of soft contact lenses to the world. The lenses were known as the Bausch & Lomb Soflens®.

1978   Introduction of GP contact lenses

The silicone used to make these lenses is gas permeable, so oxygen can pass directly through GP lenses to keep the cornea healthy without having to rely solely on oxygen-containing tears to be pumped under the lens with each blink.

1981   FDA approval of new soft contact lenses for extended (overnight) wear

Several extended wear lenses are FDA-approved for up to seven days of continuous wear, and at least two brands of silicone hydrogel EW lenses — Air Optix Night & Day (Alcon) and PureVision (Bausch + Lomb) — are approved for up to 30 days of continuous wear.

1987   Introduction of disposable soft contact lenses

The contact lens industry was further revolutionized with the availability of Acuvue disposable soft lenses brought to market by Vistakon, Inc., a Johnson & Johnson company. Disposable soft lenses increase patient comfort, improved convenience, and reduced ocular complications. Today, the finest soft lenses in the world are all disposable materials.

2002   Silicone-hydrogel contact lenses were first marketed

Silicone hydrogel contact lenses are advanced soft lenses that allow more oxygen to pass through the lens to the cornea than regular soft (“hydrogel”) contacts. In fact, silicone hydrogel lenses enable up to five times more oxygen to reach the cornea than regular hydrogel lenses.

2002   Overnight orthokeratology approved by FDA

Orthokeratology (ortho-k) is the fitting of specially designed gas permeable contact lenses that you wear overnight. While you are asleep, the lenses gently reshape the front surface of your eye (cornea) so you can see clearly the following day after you remove the lenses when you wake up.

2010   Custom-manufactured silicone-hydrogel lenses become available

A number of contact lens manufacturers now offer special design soft contacts for hard-to-fit eyes. These designs feature smaller and larger diameters and a wider range of curvatures and powers than conventional soft lenses for a more customized fit.

Research on Contact Lenses Continues

The research on contact lenses continues. More than just the materials and manufacturing process of contact lenses, scholars are also studying how contact lenses can be applied to address additional visual impairments. For example, toric lenses to correct astigmatism, colored filters to improve color vision abnormalities, etc.

Within the past few years, several companies have developed silicone based soft lenses that have six times more oxygen transmission than other lenses. The FDA has approved some of those lenses to be worn continuously night and day without removal for up to thirty days.

Technology continues to improve making the contact lens more exciting than ever before. Whether you need bifocal contacts, want to change your eye color, wear a lens with your favorite NFL team logo on it, or create a cat eye for a Halloween costume......it’s all available today! Check TTDEYE.COM for more colors and styles you want to try for 2024.