A Brief History of Optometry & Ophthalmology
There are many great things about living in the modern world—air conditioning, the internet, horseless carriages—but we should be grateful every day for the advancements in medicine we enjoy. Optometry and ophthalmology are sometimes left out of that conversation, but those fields have improved countless people’s quality of life for the past several centuries. Before there were glasses and contact lenses, people with bad vision simply had to deal with it as best they could. Since people first noticed that transparent material could warp light and alter an object’s appearance, they’ve strived to use that property to compensate for faulty vision. Here are just a few of the key events and discoveries that have given us the crystal-clear view we have today:
- ~1286 – The first pair of eyeglasses is donned when wearable lenses are first invented in northern Italy.
- 1604 – German astronomer Johannes Kepler first describes how light enters the eye, forms on the retina, and is then inverted. This revelation helps explain several visual phenomena, as well as how different types of lenses correct different vision problems. Kepler showed that concave lenses correct nearsightedness (myopia) and convex lenses correct farsightedness (hyperopia).
- 1783 – The first optometric shop in the United States is opened by John McAllister, Sr., which continues creating eyeglasses for customers until the early 1900s.
- 1784 – Benjamin Franklin invents bifocals, allowing us to effectively treat presbyopia (the loss of the eyes’ ability to naturally change focus that often accompanies old age).
- 1801 – Physician Thomas Young discovers the cause of astigmatism, a vision condition that causes blurred vision.
- 1851 – German physician Hermann von Helmholtz invents the ophthalmoscope, a tool that allows doctors to first see the interior of the human eye.
- 1862 – Dutch ophthalmologist Hermann Snellen designs and produces the first eye chart.
- 1887 – Scientists A.E. Ficke and F.A. Mueller experiment with the first contact lenses, made from blown glass.
- 1888 – The first useable pair of contact lenses is developed.
- 1910 – Columbia University begins teaching the first-ever college courses on optometry.
- 1911 – Andrew J. Cross publishes the first book to introduce the theory of retinoscopy, a revolutionary technique that allows examiners to get an objective measurement of a patient’s visual abilities. This massively advances the precision of vision diagnoses and corrective lenses.
- 1938 – Theo Obrig and John Mullen create the first-known functional pair of plastic contact lenses.
- 1974 – Bausch & Lomb introduces the first soft contact lenses to the consumer market.
- 1998 – Oklahoma enacts the first law allowing optometrists and ophthalmologists to use lasers for certain treatments, paving the way for LASIK surgery’s current popularity and impact.
To create effective corrective lenses, humankind has embarked on a long journey to understand the science of optics and the biology of the human eye. We’ve made great strides, but as far as our understanding has come, we’re still learning new things about this complex field of study every day. Medical technology that takes advantage of high-capacity computing, advancements in robotics, and artificial intelligence are sure to take optometry and ophthalmology to new frontiers that today we can only dream of.
At Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons, we provide all the information and assistance you need to make sure your vision is as clear as possible. If you’re interested in any of the many services we offer, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians & Surgeons to schedule an appointment today. Be sure to follow Dr. Segal and Dr. Lay on Facebook and Twitter for more fun facts, tips on eyecare, and the latest news and updates about eye health.