The idea for contact lenses dates as far back as Leonardo da Vinci and René Descartes, but the idea of invisible vision correction didn’t really take off until plastic materials became widely available. 

In the 1930s, doctors began manufacturing lightweight, unbreakable plastic lenses to replace the now-terrifying glass contacts of the 19th century. A newsreel called “New Look in Glasses,” unearthed in the film archives of British Pathé, shows exactly how involved the process of creating these early plastic contacts could be. The footage, which never aired, is from approximately 1948. 

The doctor anesthetized the eye before pouring it full of plaster to make a mold, a sight that to the non-initiated, looks more like a horror movie than a medical procedure. The mold was then used to create a custom plastic lens. These hard plastic lenses, covering not just the cornea, but the entire eye, could only be worn for six to eight hours at a stretch beacuse there was little if no oxygen transferring through to the eye. Note the comment that if the vision starts to go hazy, then remove them for a couple of minutes (so the eye can breathe again...)

“Contact lenses: invisible, and comfortable,” the narrator intones. And expensive. The film reports that in America, these lenses cost  ‎£75—adjusting for inflation, that’s about  ‎£2620 today. Ah, the price of frameless vision!

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