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A Brief History of Contact Lenses

You may be surprised to find out that the Italian inventor, artist and scientist Leonardo da Vinci is the one who, in 1508, sketched and described several forms of contact lenses. The first lenses actually manufactured were heavy glass lenses that covered the entire eye and could be tolerated for only a few hours of wear. These were known as scleral lenses and were used to correct nearsightedness and farsightedness.


Leonardo da Vinci illustrates the concept of contact lenses.

He constructed a large transparent globe intended to form a model of the human eye. This globe being filled with water, into which the observer immersed his face, resulted in the optical neutralization of the observer’s cornea -the clear layer of the eye that covers the pupil and iris (the coloured portion). 


British astronomer Sir John Herschel conceptualizes practical lens design.


First contact lens was manufactured from glass, and fitted to cover the entire eye surface.


Contact lenses first made from plastic.


Plastic contact lenses designed to cover only the eye's cornea.


Introduction of soft contact lenses.


Introduction of GP (Gas Permeable – able to deliver oxygen to the eye) contact lenses. These lenses were made of a hard plastic and were designed to fit within the diameter of the cornea.


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


Overnight wear of GP contact lenses becomes available.


Introduction of disposable soft contact lenses.


Introduction of one-day disposable soft lenses (These lenses were designed to maximize health and convenience).


Silicone-hydrogel contact lenses first marketed (lenses created with a silicone component to transport more oxygen to the eye).


Custom-manufactured silicone-hydrogel lenses become available


The ACUVUE® Story 


Since the 1980's, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care has been at the forefront of contact lens development, delivering the first ever disposable contact lenses which have revolutionized sight correction and patient’s lives over the past 30 years.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Care.Inc traces its origin back to Frontier Contact Lenses, a company founded in Buffalo, New York, in 1959 by Dr. Allen Isen, George Sitterle and Dr. Feinbloom. With 30 employees, Frontier manufactured a line of hard contact lenses through the 1970’s. The company then added soft lenses to the product line in the late 1970’s.

After moving operations in the early 1960’s from Buffalo, New York to Jacksonville, Florida, Frontier experienced exponential growth. Johnson & Johnson acquired Frontier in 1981 and renamed it Vistakon – this was to be the beginning of a very exciting three decades in our history.

Creating the disposable contact lens category

In 1987, Vistakon changed the vision care industry forever with the invention of ACUVUE® the world’s first disposable soft contact lens. The launch of this product was first in the US and then the UK became the first European market to bring this unique product to Eye Care Professionals during 1988/89. The response was amazing and this new way of wearing contact lenses completely revolutionized the UK market. Patients and practitioners alike embraced the idea of throwing contact lenses away after one or two weeks of wear dependent on the recommendation for the patient.


Daily disposable breakthrough

The next huge breakthrough in the contact lens market came in 1995 with the introduction of 1 DAY ACUVUE® - the world’s first daily disposable contact lens - the lens that made contact lens wear more convenient for millions of wearers.

Designed to be worn for a single day, then thrown away and replaced with a brand new, sterile pair - eliminating all contact lens cleaning and care. Some of the benefits were an unsurpassed level of comfort at that time, healthy crisp vision, convenience and cost elimination for cleaning solution products. In 2005, another breakthrough: 1 DAY ACUVUE® MOIST® – Daily disposable contact lenses with LACREON™ technology, designed to provide a fresh and comfortable feeling from morning to night.


The millennium and next generation of technology

The 90’s saw the introduction of many disposable contact lens brands, both in the daily disposable and the frequent disposable modalities. All lenses were made from Hydrogel materials. It wasn’t until the beginning of the new millennium that we started to see the introduction of Silicone Hydrogel contact lenses.

Johnson & Johnson Vision Care launched their first Silicone Hydrogel lens in 2002 with the introduction of ACUVUE® ADVANCE® with HYDRACLEAR®. This was followed 15 months later with ACUVUE® OASYS® with HYDRACLEAR® Plus.


However, the innovation didn’t stop there, Johnson & Johnson Vision Care continued to push the boundaries of contact lens development with the introduction of ACUVUE® OASYS® for ASTIGMATISM – a totally new toric (astigmatism) lens design that employed the outstanding stabilisation features of the Accelerated Stabilisation Design (ASD) to allow the lens to settle accurately on the eye in 60 seconds.

Their next milestone came in 2008 when Johnson & Johnson delivered another world first - 1 DAY ACUVUE® TruEye™. The world’s first Silicone Hydrogel daily disposable lens – the lens that is seen by eye care professionals to be the best innovation in contact lenses over the past ten years.1

The future

It has been an exciting journey – we've delivered huge changes in contact lenses, bringing more benefits to patients and helping them live their life to the full. Johnson & Johnson have always believed that innovation is paramount. With this at our core we aim to continually innovate and bring you the latest advancements.


1. Eye on the Future Study, THE VISION CARE INSTITUTE, 2009
ACUVUE®, 1 DAY ACUVUE®, 1 DAY ACUVUE® TruEye™, ACUVUE® ADVANCE®, ACUVUE® OASYS®, HYDRACLEAR®, THE VISION CARE INSTITUTE™ are trademarks of Johnson & Johnson Medical Ltd. © Johnson & Johnson Medical Ltd 2010. Johnson & Johnson Vision Care is a part of Johnson & Johnson Medical Limited.

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