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Vision Studies: The Optometry Timeline

By Gregory Miller
13 June 2017
The profession of optometry has a long, notable past. Its concepts can be dated back as far as the 12th century. During its infancy, the field of optometry wasn't taken seriously in the eyes of the other medical practices. However, as time progressed, pioneers of the industry persevered through discrimination, legal battles, and other hardships to grow and nurture the practice into what it is today. To understand the rich history of optometry, use this timeline to relive its journey.

Optometry Timeline

Spectacles

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  • 1263 – Roger Bacon observes that lenses can be useful for those who have trouble seeing.
  • 1286 – Spectacles were created by an unknown artisan in Northern Italy.
  • 1604 – Johannes Kepler explains how the retina functions and demonstrates that concave lenses fix myopia while convex lenses fix hyperopia.
  • 1621 – The law of refraction is discovered by Willebrord Snell.
  • 1623 – Daza de Valdes’s book The Use of Eyeglasses was published in Spain. It was the first book based on optometric principles.
  • 1629 – A royal charter is granted to the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers, by King Charles.
  • 1783 – The first shop specializing in optometric services was opened by John McAllister Sr in Philadelphia. By the year 1816 John McAllister & Son moved on to make gold and silver spectacles. The family business thrived until the early 20th century.
  • 1784 – The split bifocal lens for spectacles was created by none other than Benjamin Franklin.
  • 1798 – Color blindness is explained by John Dalton.
  • 1801 – Astigmatisms are discovered by Thomas Young, the first person to map out the average field of vision.
Phoropter

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  • 1821 – Cylindrical lenses were created.
  • 1843 – The trial lens case was undertaken. Its findings led to a lens prescription that was separate from the main vending and production of spectacles.
  • 1847 – An English optician named James Prentice travels to the U.S. His son, Charles F. Prentice, will be known as the “father of American Optometry”.
  • 1851 – Herman von Helmholtz is the first to see the inner portion of the eye due to the invention of the ophthalmoscope.
  • 1856 – Hermann von Helmholtz writes the volumeHandbook of Physiological Optics. It was later translated in 1924, from German to English, by James P.C. Southall.
  • 1862 – The eye chart and other eye tests were developed to test vision by Hermann Snellen.
  • 1864 – Another book of optics was published called the,Anomalies of Accommodation and Refraction of the Eye,by F.C. Donders. The book covered the basics of prescriptions. F.C.Donders was the first ever to put cylindrical lenses in a trial case.
  • 1872 – The Illinois College of Optometry was founded.
  • 1873 – The retinoscope is introduced when Cuignetreveals the principle of retinoscopy.
  • 1886 – E. Landolt’s book,Refraction and Accommodation of the Eye and TheirAnomalies, was published (English translation). The book used the term “optometry”. Opticians were not eager to embrace the term right away. In that same year, the prism diopter measuring system was developed by Charles Prentice.
Optometrist

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  • 1887 – Independent experiments with contact lenses made from blow-glass were performed by F.A. Mueller and E. E. Ficke.
  • 1888 – The first scleral contact lenses were created successfully. The first textbook for optometrists was published that same year titled,Handbook for Opticians, by William Bohne.
  • 1895 – Charles F. Prentice began charging fees for eye exams and was threatened with jail time as a result. The following year, he issued a written document stating reasons why the United States should recognize the profession of optometrists. The Optical Journal was created and was the first optometric journal to grace the American public.
  • 1898 – The American Association of Opticians formed. The name would stick for several years until it changed to the American Optical Association in 1910 before changing once again to the American Optometric Association 1919.
  • 1901 – Minnesota took the first progressive step forward by passing the first state law that essentially recognized the practice of optometry as a profession. All of the states would eventually follow in Minnesota’s steps by 1921.
  • 1910 – Columbia University was the first college to offer classes in optometry. This was a huge step in acknowledging optometry as a profession.
  • 1911 – The book,Dynamic Skiametry in Theory and Practice, was published by Andrew J. Cross. The book dove into the underlying theory of dynamic retinoscopy.
  • 1914 – Optometrists take a stand against drivers who have poor vision. They push regulation that would encourage that all drivers take a vision test before receiving their driver’s license.
  • 1915 – Optometry finds itself brought before the Supreme Court in the case of Martin v. Baldi. The Court ruled that optometry was not a form of medicine and as a result it couldn’t be regulated by the state board of medicine. In response, Albert Fitch banded together with the optometrist of Pennsylvania to pursue a legal route.
  • 1919 – The International Board of Boards (IBB) was established, though the name would change to the International Association of Boards of Examiners in Optometry (IAB) in 1954 and to the Association of Regulatory Boards (ARBO) in 1999.
Optometry (IAB)

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  • 1923 – The first Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) was awarded at the College of Optometry located in Pennsylvania.
  • 1924 – It was a process in the works for a long time, but the District of Columbia finally adopts laws pertaining to optometry. With this act, the United adopted optometry law.
  • 1925 – The first international optometric fraternity is formed: Beta Sigma Kappa.
  • 1928 – The routine examination concept was introduced by Charles Sheard. Soon, it evolved into a case analysis approach for refractive issues. The New York Commissioner of Education obtaining a bill that allowed only those who possessed a degree in optometry to qualify for the state board examination. This ended the apprenticeship system that had previously been in place.
  • 1936 – The Optometric Extension Program was founded as a private organization. It was developed by the Oklahoma Optometric Association.
  • 1937 – Controversy set in when the Reader’s Digest article Optometry on Trial was published for the world to read. The article, written by Roger Riis, contained false information about the field of optometry. Optometrists and physicians across the country were outraged. In response, though only partially, Wilber Brucker published the book The Story of Optometry.
  • 1938 – John Mullen and Theo Obrig created the plastic contact lens.
  • 1940 – The Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO) began its first year with Albert Fitch taking the lead as president. The parent organization of the group was the International Federation of Optometry Schools.
  • 1941 – L. Lester Beacher, a New York optometrist, published a textbook dedicated to the topic of contact lenses.
  • 1947 – The U.S Army began commissioning optometrists to be on staff at the Veteran Administration Hospital.
Health

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  • 1948 – Kevin Tuohy created thin plastic contact lenses. The first corneal contact lenses were awarded in the same year. Wm C. Ezell became president of the newly created American Optometric Foundation.
  • 1950 – Eugene Strawn became president of the newly formed Association of Military Optometrists. It renamed itself as the Armed Forces Optometric Society (AFOS) 20 years later in 1970.
  • 1951 – The National Board of Examiners in Optometry (NBEO) was formed. It administered its first national board exam in 1952. Another group formed by the name of the Association of Optometric Executive Secretaries. The name only stuck for a few years before they changed it to the Society of Optometric Association Executives in 1958 before changing it once again to the International Association of Optometric Executives (IAOE). The first Chief of the Optometry Section of the Medical Service Corps was selected by John William Sheridan. In 1966 Sheridan was given the American Optometric Association’s Apollo Award.
  • 1952 – Soft contact lenses were introduced to the world by Otto Wichterle who discovered crossed-linked hydrophilic polymer (HEMA).
  • 1961 – The first spin-cast soft contact lenses were created. The optometrists of Pennsylvania take to the courts in an effort to pass a bill that would make it legal to use ophthalmic diagnostic pharmaceutical agents. Sadly, they lost their court battle.
  • 1965 – New medical systems launch: Medicare and Medicaid. These systems discriminated against optometrists.
  • 1968 – A new group is formed: the American Optometric Student Association (AOSA). In New York City, the LaGuardia meeting determined the future of optometry.
  • 1969 – African American optometrists formed a group of their own, the National Optometric Association (NOA). It was founded by C. Clayton Powell and John L. Howlette.The NOA is an organization of mostly minority optometrists who specialize in eye care for minority communities. A group known as the Optometric Historical Society (OHS) was created to document the history of optometry and recognize the people and organizations that help to promote the cause. Co-founded by Henry Hofstetter and Maria Dablemont, the group had 33 charter members.
  • 1970 – The Armed Forces Optometric Society was formed. Its president was LTC Frederick Van Nus. Alabama makes progressive moves by authorizing that a school of optometry be established.
  • 1971 – The Bausch & Lomb soft contact lenses were approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. It was advertised to consumers in 1974.
Black and White

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  • 1972 – Kansas introduced the first VOSH chapter with 35 optometrists.
  • 1976 – West Virginia launched the first law in which therapeutic drugs could be used by optometrists
  • 1977 – The U.S. Supreme Court declares that professionals use ethical practices while advertising their services.
  • 1978 – The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) issued a rule known as Eyeglasses 1. It tried to circumvent the laws that were in place that restricted the advertisement of goods pertaining to the field of optometry. Several optometric groups opposed the FTC through litigation, and were able to nullify everything except the prescription release.
  • 1981 – Congress passes legislature that allows optometric coverage under Medicare to reimburse procedures that were done on aphakic patients.
  • 1986 – President Reagan signed a law that allowed optometrists to be repaid for their services when performed on nonaphakic patients. The Optometric Oath was standardized by the American Optometric Association as well as the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry in an attempt to encourage the integrity of the profession by promoting ethical behavior.
  • 1990 – William Padula was the president of the newly formed Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association.
  • 1998 – Oklahoma enacted a law that authorized the use of lasers during optometric procedures for certain kinds of treatments.
  • 2005 – A series of 3 national meetings, known as the Optometry 2020 Summits, were attended by over 20 organizations belonging to the optometric professions.
  • 2008 – The National Commission on Vision and Health (NCVH) created a group that consisted of health professionals that focused on improving the visual health of the entire nation. It was their job to provide guidance and act as the authority for the field of visual health. The NCVH guided health professionals, decision-makers, and community members.
Glasses

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  • 2009 – The group known as the American Board of Optometry (ABO) was formed for the sole purpose of developing certifications pertaining to the profession.
  • 2010 – National health care legislation is passed and children’s vision is now seen as beneficial. Another effect of the newly passed law is that patient access to care laws were preserved.

References & Resources:

American Optometric Association– General Optometric History.Berkeley Optometry Timeline– An Optometry Curriculum, by Berkeley School of Optometry.The LaGuardia Meeting– The Meeting That Changed the Profession, by Irving Bennett.125 Years of Optometry – A Timeline, 07/15/2016.50 Years of Optometry – A Journey from the 1960s to 2015 by Jennifer Kirby, 09/01/2015.
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