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Jennifer Anderson
Tech 1010
Feb.12, 2016
Prof. Winter
Invention Connection
Have you ever thought about what your life would be like if you couldn’t see? Imagine
that if science had never discovered how to improve your sight how many other technological
advances never would have been invented either. The discovery and subsequent improvements to
the optical lens for improving our vision has led to some of the most important discoveries in the
history of man-kind yet still have not reached our goals for long term visual sustainability.
Isn’t it rather ironic that such an important discovery as vision manipulation has never
been attributed to one individual. It is currently believed by many to have been a cumulative
“effort of many artisans, mathematicians, physists” (Fleishman) and others that have led to
improvement in our sight. In order to understand why we believe this we must take a look back
through history to figure out where the advancements in eyeglasses have taken place.
According to The American Academy of Opthamology, one of the earliest recorded
individuals to have used a tool to help aid their vision was the Roman Emperor Nero. It is said
that he had to use “an emerald to view gladiators to help magnify his vision” (AAO). However,
according to Wm. Randall Trawnick of dallaseye.net, as early as the 5th century BC people were
using eye prosthetics that were worn kind of
like an eye patch and had an eye painted on
the front. (Trawnick)
Then around the 10th Century we start
using reading stones which where half
spheres of glass that were concave on one
Creative Commons. (2005)

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side to magnify the words on a page. The greatest leap in ocular improvement came between the
years 1284-9 AD when the industry of glass got a big push from guild workers in Italy. More
specifically, on the small island of Murano a guild of crystal workers set up regulations for how
to manipulate and create glass objects and coined the term “discs for the eyes”. By 1292 Roger
Bacon was able to develop this glass into a magnifier for aiding the weakness of old eyes.
(Fleishman)
None of this technology could be widely used without the invention of the printing press
in 1450 by Johann Gutenburg. With the ability to mass produce writings came the desire to learn
to read and write, which also made clear vision quite indispensable. It turned what could
typically only be afforded by the affluent, wealthy or clerical members of society, directly into
the hands of the working class for only a few shillings. By 1462, Fleishman reports records of
Dukes ordering hundreds of this new phenomenon to give as gifts to other courtiers.
By the 15th century glass shops were being set up in England and by 1508 Leonardo
DaVinci was able to illustrate the concept of contact lenses. (Siviglia) Between this time
artificial prosthesis were being made of ceramic and glass to be worn on the outside of the eye
socket but by the 16th century, Ventian glassmakers were able to create prostetics that could be
fitted right into the patients eye sockets.
It was also around this time that Zaccharias Janssen and his father Hans, put several of
these lenses into a straight tube creating a compound microscope (Microbus) and in 1603
Johanes Lippershey came up with the “refractor” telescope. Again in 1680 with Sir Issac Newton
used the same technology to advance his own adaptation of the lens for his “reflector” telescope.
(AAO) By now I am sure you may be thinking we are starting to drift off topic here but this is
actually where optical lenses got their start.

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Before now most of the lenses were connected by rivets or a wire that bridged the gap
over the nose and most improvements in vision were adaptable only for patients with myopes,
better known as nearsighted. But with knowing those limitations, the 1700’s brought more
advancements in optometry with Edward Scarlett’s first advertisement of side arms on the lenses,
and Benjamin Franklin’s split lens bifocals in 1760. The biggest advancement however came
when Chester Moore Hall, a lawyer
working on improvements to his version
of the telescope, combined crown glass
with flint glass to correct the blurry
abberation around the edges of the lens’
vision. We now call this design the
“Achromatic Lens”.

Creative Commons. (2010)

By the 1800’s we start to see how all these centuries of improvements start to come
together to form what we now understand as vision correction. “In 1806 President Thomas
Jefferson is designing round lenses and having them produced for his own use. In 1823 British
Astronomer, Sir John Herschel, conceptualizes a practical lens design. Then in 1825 Optician
George Airy corrects his own Astigmatism using sphero-cylandrical lenses and in 1827 John
Issac Hawkins patented the first trifocals.” (Fleishman)
By this time in history eyewear has become not only a symbol of learning and prestige
through the frivolity and vanity of the upper classes but also a common every day item with a
conglomerate of uses. While contacts had already been invented, their uses remained limited
until 1884 with the “introduction of anesthesia”, (Siviglia) and with it a real boom for
advancements in vision correction.

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Now, According to the Edward Hand Medical Foundation, doctors could advance longstanding theories of corneal molding, as was “first used by Dr.’s Adolph Fick, Eugene Cult and
August Mueller in 1887 and the first procedure of bifocal contacts being cemented to the outside
of corneal lenses in 1888 by Dr. August Morck Jr.” (Fleishman) With optical advancements
finally culminating into the first school of Refracting being established in Boston in 1894, the
ability to discover alternative uses in lens technology were enhanced.
Up until this time most of the advancements in lenses were made in producing the glass
itself. As was found in many prosthesis even the most skilled artesian substitutions were found to
be irregular, and at times even painful to the patient. Not to mention that eye surgery was clearly
in its infancy it had many negative side effects, regardless the benefits to patients.
From the 1900’s on, the advancements in eyewear have been focused less on vision
correction and more on vision improvement. We see these advancements in the types of
materials that were used in the production of contact lenses. First, plastic in 1939 and later to a
more flexible type of silicate that allows oxygen to pass through to eye while allowing the
material to remain flexible and resilient to other environmental conditions by the 1970’s.
(Siviglia)
With the development and advancements of laser technology in the late 1900’s we have
turned the scalpel into a more precise and reliable alternative to customized cornel molding and
cutting of the outer corneal tissues for replacement, modification and reinsertion of modulated
ocular tissues. The problem with this technology in optical improvement is that it is not a lasting
solution and could leave the patient with scarring that could worsen vision in the long term. It
clearly still has areas for tremendous advancement.

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I have found it interesting how we have continued to sustain the vain and frivolous uses
of optical eyewear into our current culture in what we
justify as protective exposure from the sun’s harmful UV
rays. While the defense is clearly a valid justification the
styles and options are still being modified to produce
what sells such “Google Glass”.

Reckmann. (2010)

Optical lenses still have a long way to go to improve our vision but they are still
enhancing our lives in countless other ways thanks to this one technology. The development of
lens technologies have brought us simple technological advancements such as telescopes,
microscopes and magnifiers that have in turn lead us down various other paths in ocular
improvements. One day I see the possibility of camera lens technologies helping the blind to
restore their vision through implants. While our focus need not remain in ocular improvement we
must not forget what these technologies were meant for and that we still have not reached our
goals for long term visual sustainability.

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Citations:
Fleishman, David A. MD. (2015) “Eye Glasses Through The Ages.” Antique Spectacles and
Other Vision Aids. Antiquespecticles.com. Copyright 2003-15. Web. Accessed on Feb, 11, 2016
at http://www.antiquespectacles.com/history/ages/through_the_ages.htm#
“Brief History Of Optics And Lenses.” American Academy of Ophthamology. (AAO) Museum
of Vision. Web. Accessed on Feb. 11, 2016 at
http://www.museumofvision.org/exhibitions/?key=44&subkey=4&relkey=29 and
http://www.museumofvision.org/exhibitions/?key=44&subkey=4&relkey=36

Trawnick, Wm. Randall BCO FASO “A Brief History Of Ocular Prosthesis” Dallas Eye
Prosthetics. Web. Accessed on Feb. 15, 2016 at http://www.dallaseye.net/history-of-artificialeyes.php

Brian (2011) “Achromatic Refracting Telescopes: The Lens To Correct Chromatic Abberation.”
Outerspaceuniverse.org. Web. Accessed Feb. 15, 2016 at
http://www.outerspaceuniverse.org/achromatic-refracting-telescopes-lens-correct-chromaticabberation.html

Siviglia, Nick. (2010) “A History of Contact Lenses” Edward Hand Medical Foundation. Vogel
Marketing Solutions, LLC. Copyright. Web. Accessed Feb. 15, 2016 at
http://www.edwardhandmedicalheritage.org/history_of_contact_lenses.html

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(2015) “History of the Microscope: Includes Who Invented The Microscope” Microbus.
Copyright. Web. Accessed on Feb. 15. 2016 at http://www.microscopemicroscope.org/basic/microscope-history.htm

Creative Commons. (2005) “Quartz Crystal Demonstrating Transparency.” Wikipedia.org. Web.
Accessed Feb. 15, 2016 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quartz

Creative Commons. (2010) “An en:achromatic doublet, combining crown glass and en:flint
glass. Wikipidia.org. Web. Accessed Feb. 15, 2016 at
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lens_(optics)#/media/File:Lens6b-en.svg

Reckmann, Tim (2014) “Google Glass Main .jpg” Creative Commons. Wikipidia.org. Web.
Accessed on Feb. 15, 2016 at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Google_Glass_Main.jpg