Whilst no one knows when people first started using lenses for eye defect correction, their first use was probably for reading and centuries ago with eyeglasses first appearing in Italy in the 13th century.
The first painting to show eyeglasses was painted by Tommaso da Modena in 1352. Before this, in 1268 Roger Bacon made the earliest known scientific commentary on lenses for vision correction.
At first transparent quartz or beryl was used, but greater demand meant the need for the grinding of high quality glass in places like Veniceand Nuremburg.
From glasses came the compound microscope in the late l6th century and the telescope in the early 17th century.
Bifocals were invented by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, putting the lens for farsightedness on the bottom for reading and the lens for nearsightedness on top for distance, holding them together by the frame. Cemented bifocals came about in 1884, fused bifocals in 1908 and one-piece bifocals in 1910.
Contact lenses were made by Adolf Fick in 1887, first using glass but after 1938 plastic was common. These lenses covered most of the eye, and needed a fluid under them to avoid dryness. From the late 1940s smaller lenses covered only the cornea and floated on tears.
In the 1970s soft lenses made of hydroxethylmethacrylate, a plastic, brought reduced irritation for the wearer, but they damaged easily. In the 1980's came extended-wear soft lenses, worn without removal for some days, and in 1988 disposable contact lenses appeared.
Plastic lenses often with treated surfaces for toughness, anti-glare and even light level correction, have become more popular than glass, if only because they are lighter. however, they have never become as hard wearing and scratch resistant as glass.
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