From the beginning of mankind, eyesight has been an essential part of human survival. As humans evolved, so too did our understanding of the importance of the eye and proper eye care. Below is a list of some of the more interesting and impactful advances made throughout vision history.
Origins of the eye
Our eyes have been a heavily studied and observed organ since the time science became a critical part of human advancement. The first observations of the human eye, however, were more related to religion, spirituality and philosophy rather than biology. For example, in ancient Egyptian culture, many valued the eyes as a sacred part of the body. The “Eye of Horus” is the iconic hieroglyphic seen within tombs and pyramids in Egypt. This eye is a mythological symbol for the Egyptian god “Wedjat” or “Udjat” as they are both referred to and is a symbol for protection, good health, power and restoration.¹
First studies of the eye
The first documented study of the human eye was around the 4th century B.C. and was made by the renowned Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that the eyes produced light which seized objects in its path and allowed us to see.² However, it wasn’t until Herophilus performed the first human dissections in the 3rd century B.C. that human anatomy was effectively studied. He was the first person to study the human body in its entirety. This lead to the discovery of the cornea, retina, iris and several other parts of the eye. His contributions are in part the foundation for the anatomical studies of the eye.³
Who should we thank for the invention of glasses?
The first pair of glasses
Six out of every ten people worldwide wear either glasses or contact lenses.4 Had it not been for the creation of eyeglasses, more than half of the world would be vision impaired with no remedy. Who should we thank for the invention of glasses? The answer is a mystery. An unknown Italian inventor came up the first pair of glasses sometime between 1268 and 1289 and changed the world of eyecare. Eyewear was originally worn only by scholars and monks because of a lack of literacy in the general public. All this changed around 1452 when the printing press emerged. More of the population began wearing glasses due to a larger desire to read.5
In 1827, Sir John Herschel proposed the idea of creating a lens which molded the eye and fixed vision impairment.
The first pair of contacts
The first person to come up with the potential concept of contact lenses was Leonardo Da Vinci in 1508. He created sketches which indicated vision impairment in the human eye could be altered by placing water directly into contact with the cornea. It wasn’t until soon after than anyone attempted to create such a complex lens. In 1827, Sir John Herschel proposed the idea of creating a lens which molded the eye and fixed vision impairment. Some believe that 50 years after Herschel proposed this idea, a German glassblower by the name of F. A. Muller gathered Herschel’s work and designed the first contact lens in 1887. Others believe the first contact lens was a joint effort between Adolf E. Fick and Edouard Kalt in 1888. Nobody knows for sure who the first inventor was, though one thing is for certain: the first pair of contacts took a long time to conceptualize and even longer to actually make.6
The first eye surgeries
The first documented eye surgery was a cataract surgery performed by the French ophthalmologist Jacques Daviel in 1747. He successfully removed cataracts from an eye, changing the world of eye care. This was the first big advancement in eye surgeries from the more brutal ancient techniques like “couching,” which involved painfully removing opacity by dislodging the eye lens. Since then, humanity has made some amazing strides towards eye procedures like LASIK surgery and diabetic retinotherapy.7