Wearing Contacts in 1948 Was No Easy Task

Simple Contacts

Let’s take a step back into the year 1948. The Olympic games have just resumed after a years-long absence thanks to the end of World War II, newfangled toys like the Polaroid camera and Scrabble are sweeping the nation, and the process of getting fitted for contact lenses is absolutely horrifying. Here, take a look at this amazing old newsreel footage (content warning: if you have a fear of things touching your eyes, this may not be for you):

As you can see, what is now fairly routine was once a living nightmare. And if you couldn’t bring yourself to watch the video, here’s how it went down.

The process starts with the optician using an impression cup filled with a plaster-like substance to make a mold of the (thankfully) anesthetized eye. That's right, plaster. In a cup. Placed directly on the eyeball. For what some would consider an eternity (two whole minutes), the mold is left on the eye to set before it’s removed.

Once removed, the mold is used to shape an unbreakable piece of plastic, which gets refined and polished to suit the wearers’ vision needs. Finally, a buffer solution is placed into the eye and the lenses are inserted, promising 6-8 hours of “comfortable” wear. The video even gives viewers a glimpse of what a chic, mid-century contact lens carrying case looked like–a far cry from the compact, practical plastic version we’re familiar with today.

Seeing that contact lenses existed at all before 1950 might be surprising for some, even though ideas for the technology can be traced all the way back to Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. Then again, most people didn’t start wearing contacts until the early 70’s when soft lenses were first introduced–the lenses seen here were mostly reserved for the upper crust and actors, jockeys and athletes.

While the narrator in the video wasn’t wrong when he announces that contacts are “a new look that’s here to stay”, let’s all just be thankful we’re wearing contact lenses in 2018 instead of 1948.

Footage courtesy of British Pathe.