AN EYE FOR AN EYE
The use of artificial eyes dates back to ancient times. The first glass eyes were developed in the late 1500s and were considered an art form, with most of them custom-made and as a result, quite expensive. Starting in 1898, stock eyes became available. They came in cased sets from which the patient could select the best match for their own eye (see photo above right, dating to 1879). By the 20th century nearly all prosthetic eyes in the U.S. used imported glass from Germany. Trade barriers with Germany during World War II caused an almost overnight switch from glass to acrylic. Acrylic prosthetics had the advantage of being sturdier, more lightweight, easier to clean, and quicker to manufacture. Their production proved so advantageous that U.S. manufacturing never returned to using the brittle glass, but the term “glass eye” remains when discussing prosthetics. Pictured above left is a prosthetic eye in case, from 1890.
Courtesy of The Museum of Vision, museumofvision.org.