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Thread: Progressive Lens History

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    Progressive Lens History

    The history of Progressive Addition Lenses on Wikipedia really sucks, its thin and really vague. I know some of you were there first and second hand. I don't know if Dave Ripps still posts on here (I didn't see him in the members list) but his father Irving developed one of the first No-line bifocals in the 1950's. Any good history out there that isn't well known about Progressives, and should be?
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    What's up? drk's Avatar
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    You da man. I'd love to read your history.

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    How many of you remember the Grolman fitting device for taking measurements?
    B.A., ABOM, NCLE, Independent Optician



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    Master OptiBoarder rbaker's Avatar
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    Probably the best site on the web is http://www.dickwhitney.net/AOFirsts.htm. Dick has done a marvelous job and this site is very extensive.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BobK View Post
    How many of you remember the Grolman fitting device for taking measurements?
    AO's best!

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    OptiGeek Wes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by rbaker View Post
    Probably the best site on the web is http://www.dickwhitney.net/AOFirsts.htm. Dick has done a marvelous job and this site is very extensive.
    D Baker, that and the handcrankers site you had were some of my favorite reading back in the day. Dick Whitney was the man. I now follow Darryl Meister's papers and other optical news that seems relevant.

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    Master OptiBoarder Darryl Meister's Avatar
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    A concise history can be found in the OptiCampus.com course on progressive lenses.

    Wikipedia is not particularly good site to use for facts about spectacle lenses, historical or otherwise.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
    Darryl J. Meister, ABOM

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    Master OptiBoarder rbaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wes View Post
    D Baker, that and the handcrankers site you had were some of my favorite reading back in the day. Dick Whitney was the man. I now follow Darryl Meister's papers and other optical news that seems relevant.
    Dick Whitney is still the man. He has access to most of the AO historical archives and is actively working to restoreThe Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge, MA.

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    I know that's exactly my point... but there has never been an extensive history done on Progressive Lenses, their development and advancement. I am hoping to capture some history before some of these pioneers retire, or pass, many of them are still with us. The Opticampus history is concise, but too concise, its only one step better than Wikipedia.

    What about Zeiss' advancements in the early 80's with improving binocular symmetry? I don't think many people know that Zeiss led the effort during that period to make Prog. lenses Asymmetrical to make vision more symmetrical. Its a huge advancement, among others, that should be noted on a historical timeline. I was fortunate to meet the head Zeiss Progressive designer in the mid/late 90's and he told me about Zeiss' efforts to minimize/balance distortion in the soon to be released Gradal Top by redesigning the soft-focus area that were also revolutionary at the time. The Gradal Top was the first 4th generation lens, but there are only a handful of people who knows what that even means anymore.

    The Comfort was enormously successful, because its was the first adaptive design where the design adjusted with every add power increase. Again, not told, nor well known, yet historical.

    Minkwitz's theorem was studied (and proven within 2mm of Umbilic) by Jim Sheedy, but we don't know ANYTHING about Minkwitz himself? He was probably German, but where was he employed? Born? Was he a physicist who wore progressives and had a hard time adapting? You probably have access to German materials that would contribute to knowing his history a little.

    Irving Ripps of Younger Optics with his No-Line Blended lens in the early 1950s preceded Essilors Progressives, but how much did his work contribute to the next step? Dave Ripps his son, used to post here, maybe they have both memories and documents outlining the lens and its development? Stories his dad shared? Does Dave still post?

    Darryl, you have done a lot of research. What historical information have you uncovered that is unknown? You, Mark, Robert and Steve were in the heart of Sola when I first met you in Petaluma, I think in the mid/late 90's. That was a historical time on its own, you were part of optical history (and still are). I have heard some stories from Mark recently that should be written down about creating the VIP using a TRS-80 and the drama.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    A concise history can be found in the OptiCampus.com course on progressive lenses.

    Wikipedia is not particularly good site to use for facts about spectacle lenses, historical or otherwise.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
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    Also, I believe that the "2C Optics" lens was the first commercially available Free-form Progressive in the US, also lost to history.
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    Master OptiBoarder Darryl Meister's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    The Opticampus history is concise, but too concise, its only one step better than Wikipedia... Irving Ripps of Younger Optics with his No-Line Blended lens in the early 1950s preceded Essilors Progressives
    Well, OptiCampus is at least two steps better than Wikipedia, if you consider accuracy. Case in point, Howard Beach invented the first blended bifocal lens in 1941, 14 years before Norman and Irving Rips invented a similar lens.

    And their section on progressive lens history was obviously written by someone who simply regurgitated a few entries from a equally poorly researched textbook. For instance, Duke-Elder is mentioned as an early inventor of progressive lenses because someone misread someone else's interpretation of a statement made by Duke-Elder regarding a progressive lens that was available at the time.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    The Comfort was enormously successful, because its was the first adaptive design where the design adjusted with every add power increase.
    Remember that Varilux Infinity and Essilor Adaptar actually utilized design by add power variations prior to Varilux Comfort.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    Also, I believe that the "2C Optics" lens was the first commercially available Free-form Progressive in the US, also lost to history.
    That honor would probably belong to Carl Zeiss Optical, which introduced Gradal "Optimized Surface Design" progressive lenses with an atoric-like back surface that was produced using special generators in 1993.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    Minkwitz's theorem was studied (and proven within 2mm of Umbilic) by Jim Sheedy
    Keep in mind that, while Jim Sheedy did a very nice job presenting a refreshed look at this topic to a relatively new audience, Minkwitz's theorem has been well-described and well-understood for many years. It is fairly a straightforward mathematical consequence of smooth surfaces when you force a line free of surface astigmatism to increase in mean curvature.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    Darryl, you have done a lot of research. What historical information have you uncovered that is unknown?
    I could ramble on for hours regarding the history and evolution of progressive lenses, but I suspect that only about 3 other people would really care. Still, I may commit some stuff to paper at some point this year, if for no other reason than to record a truly accurate discussion of the topic for posterity.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
    Darryl J. Meister, ABOM

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    Master OptiBoarder Darryl Meister's Avatar
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    It would be remiss of me not to mention Werner Koeppen's excellent website regarding the history of progressive lenses, www.wernerkoeppen.com. Although it is a bit heavy on Essilor content, there is still a lot of good information available there.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
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    Underemployed Genius Jacqui's Avatar
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    'Understanding Lens Surfacing' by Brooks has a small bit about the history of progressives, but a very small bit. I remember AO's progressive work in the 60's that I seen at Southbridge while working there and later visits. AO's work helped set the path for today's progressives. Dick Whitney would know more about this than anyone.
    Last edited by Jacqui; 07-02-2013 at 03:31 PM. Reason: Added, Multiplied, Deleted.
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    Didn't AO invent the progressive back in the 1920's?? I think I remember seeing a photo of the lady that they were giving credit to for inventing it (maybe on Whitney's site).
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    Master OptiBoarder Darryl Meister's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jacqui
    Didn't AO invent the progressive back in the 1920's?? I think I remember seeing a photo of the lady that they were giving credit to for inventing it
    Dr. Estelle Glancy invented one of the earliest single-sided progressive-like lens designs in 1923, although it was never launched commercially.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
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    Thanks, I just found that slightly before you mentioned it, I have another source to post as well. Werner has some PDF files in German that I can't read as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    It would be remiss of me not to mention Werner Koeppen's excellent website regarding the history of progressive lenses, www.wernerkoeppen.com. Although it is a bit heavy on Essilor content, there is still a lot of good information available there.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    Dr. Estelle Glancy invented one of the earliest single-sided progressive-like lens designs in 1923, although it was never launched commercially.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
    I found this great history written by Bernard Maintenaz himself, its probably the best single history written. In it mentions that many of the people mentioned are lost to history, re their background etc. If he couldn't find out the details probably no one can.

    Interestingly he never mentions Dr. A. Estelle Glancy once, but I went through both Bernard's and Estelle's patent applications for progressives and her's seemed promising than his, her's seemed closer to the Varilux 2 than the 1. Of course Bernard solved the problem of how to actually MAKE progressive lenses. But she was 35 years ahead of her time! Great job Estelle!

    http://www.optiker-peter-tewes.de/br...-maintenaz.htm

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    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    I found this great history written by Bernard Maintenaz himself, its probably the best single history written. In it mentions that many of the people mentioned are lost to history, re their background etc. If he couldn't find out the details probably no one can.
    Much of the first section seems to come from AG Bennett's old article, "Variable and Progressive Power Lenses," originally published in Manufacturing Optics International in 1973. It was probably the most complete history of progressive lenses up to that point, although there were one or two minor discrepancies (in particular, regarding Gowlland). Maitenaz wrote a great article on the history of the development of Varilux lenses, "Four Steps that Led to Varilux," originally published in the American Journal of Optometry in 1974. Both of these articles are required reading for the serious progressive lens designer or optical history buff.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
    Darryl J. Meister, ABOM

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    Thanks for your response.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    And their section on progressive lens history was obviously written by someone who simply regurgitated a few entries from a equally poorly researched textbook. For instance, Duke-Elder is mentioned as an early inventor of progressive lenses because someone misread someone else's interpretation of a statement made by Duke-Elder regarding a progressive lens that was available at the time.
    Funny, I searched for some verification on Stewart Duke Elder for hours and could not verify the Wikipedia entry what-so-ever, but its repeated about 20 other places now. It made no sense why a Scottish Ophthalmologist would sell progressives in Montreal Quebec in 1922. Of course I wasted 2 hours finding out what you already knew.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    Remember that Varilux Infinity and Essilor Adaptar actually utilized design by add power variations prior to Varilux Comfort.
    Thanks, I could not find an official release date for the Adaptar, its not mentioned in any Varilux history at all. the Infinity was known as the VMD as well, correct? Do you know what year was the Adaptar released?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    That honor would probably belong to Carl Zeiss Optical, which introduced Gradal "Optimized Surface Design" progressive lenses with an atoric-like back surface that was produced using special generators in 1993.
    Was the OSD lens available at all in the US in 1993? There was a long history of lenses launching in Europe well before they hit the States. I didn't know of the Gradal Top before 1999 . The Zeiss Individual was not available through any of my sources until 2000 direct from Germany, it was a great lens though. But from old price lists I don't have a mention of an OSD lens at all, nor did my Zeiss rep mention it at the time. Please update me with better US Launch dates, in addition to the German launch dates someday if you find the time. But right now I have the Gradal Top in launching in the US 1999, the Individual at 2000, what became known as the "i" and "i Short" in 2003, from my old paperwork. Although Zeiss walks away from the "i" name later for some reason, and starts calling it the Individual again at some point.

    In 1996 "2C Optics" was the first company to use the name "Free-form" here in the US, and at the time make the claim as the first US lens with a backside Add, although Seiko had one in Japan in 1993. I believe 2C was purchased by Rodenstock very shortly after their launch, and that lens merged to become the Multigressiv 2, I think in 2000 with a full backside Add. I only saw the Multigressiv 1 available in 1997, but it had a split add. Is all that correct?

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    Keep in mind that, while Jim Sheedy did a very nice job presenting a refreshed look at this topic to a relatively new audience, Minkwitz's theorem has been well-described and well-understood for many years. It is fairly a straightforward mathematical consequence of smooth surfaces when you force a line free of surface astigmatism to increase in mean curvature.
    I had to depend on Jim's work, I couldn't find a complete copy of Minkwitz's work in English, only German, although I found English summaries. I also could not find any information about Minkwitz himself, what he did, where he worked, when he was born and died. If you have any history of him as person it would be great.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    I could ramble on for hours regarding the history and evolution of progressive lenses, but I suspect that only about 3 other people would really care. Still, I may commit some stuff to paper at some point this year, if for no other reason than to record a truly accurate discussion of the topic for posterity.
    Best regards,
    Darryl
    As you can see from Wikipedia, a complete and correct history would be very valuable, and a first. Count me in if you ever get a chance, I think there are more than 3 of us. I am doing an early time line I will post here, for your perusal. It would be helpful at some point to create a technical advancement time line, ie, when each lens generation launched and what it brought to the market someday.
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    Thankfully, I have seriously ambitious type A librarian that loves challenges.

    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post
    Much of the first section seems to come from AG Bennett's old article, "Variable and Progressive Power Lenses," originally published in Manufacturing Optics International in 1973. It was probably the most complete history of progressive lenses up to that point, although there were one or two minor discrepancies (in particular, regarding Gowlland). Maitenaz wrote a great article on the history of the development of Varilux lenses, "Four Steps that Led to Varilux," originally published in the American Journal of Optometry in 1974. Both of these articles are required reading for the serious progressive lens designer or optical history buff.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
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    Master OptiBoarder Darryl Meister's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    the Infinity was known as the VMD as well, correct? Do you know what year was the Adaptar released?
    Infinity (VMD) = 1988
    Adaptar = 1992
    Comfort = 1993

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    Funny, I searched for some verification on Stewart Duke Elder for hours and could not verify the Wikipedia entry what-so-ever, but its repeated about 20 other places now... Of course I wasted 2 hours finding out what you already knew
    Yeah, Duke-Elder just wrote about the fact that such a lens (Gowlland's progressive lens) was available, but someone later attributed the actual invention of Gowlland's progressive lens to Duke-Elder. This misinterpretation has then been promulgated as fact for many years since.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    Was the OSD lens available at all in the US in 1993?
    The US patent application was filed in 1993. I believe that it was made available locally in North America by 1994. Of course, the lenses were manufacturered in Germany and the ZEISS brand was still relatively niche at the time, so they were not selling like hotcakes over here or anything.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    In 1996 "2C Optics" was the first company to use the name "Free-form" here in the US... I believe 2C was purchased by Rodenstock very shortly after their launch
    If I recall correctly, 2C's original system was a cast-to-Rx process that did not involve real-time optical design or free-form fabrication. I believe that they didn't get into what we now refer to as "free-form" technology until they got involved with Rodenstock in 1999 (a company that had been pursuing free-form technology in Germany alongside Carl Zeiss). And, as far as I know, 2C held no patents on free-form technology. But I'd have to dig through my old files to say for certain.

    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    I had to depend on Jim's work, I couldn't find a complete copy of Minkwitz's work in English... I also could not find any information about Minkwitz...
    Beyond publishing a mathematical relationship inherent to surfaces with an umbilic, and a couple of patents for aspheric lenses, I'm not sure how much Gunther Minkwitz really contributed to the optical industry. Even referring to this relationship as "Minkwitz's theorem" has only really become common since Sheedy's article was published. For instance, John Davis referenced this relationship in his article, "Aspheric Lenses: What's Possible and What Isn't," published in 1978, but doesn't actually refer to it as "Minkwitz's." Several other authors have also referred to it indirectly over the years.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
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    Quote Originally Posted by Darryl Meister View Post

    Beyond publishing a mathematical relationship inherent to surfaces with an umbilic, and a couple of patents for aspheric lenses, I'm not sure how much Gunther Minkwitz really contributed to the optical industry. Even referring to this relationship as "Minkwitz's theorem" has only really become common since Sheedy's article was published. For instance, John Davis referenced this relationship in his article, "Aspheric Lenses: What's Possible and What Isn't," published in 1978, but doesn't actually refer to it as "Minkwitz's." Several other authors have also referred to it indirectly over the years.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
    Thanks, at least you know Gunther's first name. Was he in Optics? Cameras? Mathematics? what company was he with? Apparently he is still alive.
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    Now open criticism, correction, addednum and additions, here is my base summary of Progressive lens history from 1000 to 1959. I hope to have a second history from 1959 to present. There are still missing pieces so please add anything I may have missed, correct what I have wrong, improve where I have strayed. I hope to update the information on Wikipedia, and especially correct the error regarding "Gowlland of Montreal".

    A Short History of Spectacles and Variable Multi-focal Spectacle Lenses leading to Modern Progressives from c. 1000 - 1959

    Spectacle Lend and Bi-focal Development until 1836.

    Book of Optics, a 7 volume series written by the Arab Scholar Ibn Al-Hathyam (965– c. 1040 AD) transformed the world’s understanding of light, human physiology and its application for vision correction. He is known as the Father of Modern Optics.

    The Vikings around 1000-1100 A.D. were able to manufacture perfectly bi-aspheric single vision lenses from crystal, but it’s not known for sure if these lenses were used as jewelry, telescopes, eyewear, monocles, fire starters or to treat wounds. These "Visby Lenses" were ground on almost perfect true form variable curves on along symmetrical radius that matches modern computer models for ophthalmic aspheric lenses. Nothing certain is known about their inspiration, invention, manufacture or use, but they demonstrate the possibility to understand and manufacture complex optical curves with accuracy.

    Corrective spherical glass lenses which were mounted in frames, were first manufactured in Pisa Italy around 1285 A.D., with information used and inspired by Al-Hathyams Book of Optics. In 1301 the first Guild for Opticians was formed in Venice Italy, so spectacle technology was spreading, but there were no significant advancements for many years.

    While in Paris for a diplomatic mission in 1779, the Benjamin Franklin ordered a custom set of spectacles from the English Optician H. Sykes (who had an office in Paris) specifying a lens for his distance correction cut in half and mounted in the top, and a lens for his reading correction mounted in the bottom. Franklin previously would have 2 pairs and constantly switch back and forth between them to his annoyance. Franklin many years later calls them his invention although it’s possible that split lens frames existed prior to this for other reasons. It’s comforting to know that there were at least 3 lab “redo’s” on this historic first pair of what Franklin called his “Double Spectacles”.

    1825: Astronomer George B. Airy developed the first corrective lenses for Astigmatism, which he himself suffered. He was able to measure his own astigmatism and effect its correction. As the Royal Astronomer his astigmatism would have impacted his work greatly. These first toric lenses were probably fabricated by Fuller of Ipswitch.

    Optician Isaac Schnaitman of Philadelphia c. 1836, patented one-piece bifocal lenses with both distance and reading portions ground on to one piece of glass.

    Variable Curve Multi-focal Development: from 1879 to 1959.

    1879: Dr. E.G. Cusco proposes using a flexible membrane surrounding clear fluid to alter refractive curves for use spectacle correction.

    1907: Owen Aves in England first patented a Progressive lens design in 1907. His design consisted of a conical vertical cylinder back surface and a variable cylindrical front with opposing axes in order to create a power variance and thus progression. It was never produced due to limitations of manufacturing at the time.

    1911: French Optician Georges Poullain and Julien Cornet in 1911 patented a design with an umbilical main meridian, with stabilized far and near vision zones. But noted there was no way with current technology to manufacture the lens.

    (H. Newbold appears to have designed a similar lens to Aves around 1913 (Wikipedia: unverified by any other source))

    1916: American Optical invents the "lensometer" which began to be used in their factories, and was available for sale in 1920. This greatly improves the accuracy and standards of spectacle lenses.

    1909-22: In addition to making microscopes and ophthalmoscopes, Henry O. Gowlland of Montreal Canada and England produced a lens progression by using parabolic powers on the back of a lens with a convex cylinder diopter on the front. He also patented new methods of forming and polishing glass for lenses. With his family business also in England, his invention was possibly available in some limited production form. At least 2 key people were aware of Gowlland’s work, Ophthalmologist Stewart Duke-Elder who noted it in England and Dr. A. Estelle Glancy in Massachusetts. Because 2 microscopes manufactured by the Gowlland family have been discovered labeled as manufactured in Massachusetts, its possible there was some connection or contact with Dr. Glancy. Gowlland Optical and Gowlland Medical Instruments continue to this day in England.

    1922-4: Dr. Anne Estelle Glancy was a Research Scientist, Mathematician and Astronomer. While at American Optical (AO) in Massachusetts she patented a lens design with the entire add power on the front through the use of variable curves along an umbilic, with a variable but consistant intermediate that linked defined stable reading and distance zones. Her design is very similar to a modern progressive lens made today, and unlike previous attempts could allow a full spherical and toric spectacle RX to be processed in combination to the progressive power. Her diagrams with lensometer readings indicate prototype lenses were made, however they never reached production probably due to difficulty in manufacturing. Interestingly one of her drawings is marked as a “Gowland Lens” which may have served as either an early name-sake or inspiration. She was essentially 36 years or more ahead of her time.

    1931: An American named Charles Evans patented a glass lens with increasing variable prism lower in the lens.

    1941-55: Howard Beach invents the first blended bi-focal. In 1955 Irving Ripps developed the Seamless Bifocal with a 3.5 mm blend zone. Although neither lens had a usable intermediate, a mark of today’s progressives, the success of both American “no-line” lenses demonstrated the market’s desire and commercial viability for a bifocal lens without “lines”.

    1946: H.J. Birchall from England patented a conical glass lens surface structure, like an elephant trunk and the first real proposal for manufacturing varifocal lenses. Tragically his early death ended his work.

    1959: C.W. Kanolt was a German chemist who also dabbled in Optics and photography, possibly as the result of his own presbyopia, and in 1959 contributed to the Mathematical expressions of future progressive optics.

    The First Successful Production Progressive Multi-focal Lens:

    Bernard Maitenaz of Société des Lunetiers, in 1951 filed a patent for the design of a Progressive Addition Lens. Even more importantly, he added 4 patents over the next 8 years for manufacturing the complex surfaces required to make such a lens. His advances in the manufacturing capabilities resulted in the Varilux Progressive being released 1959 (which reached the US in 1965). It was the first widely available and commercially successful Progressive lens, and was later known as the Varilux 1. Mr. Maitnenaz is not only alive today, but still active in the company that became Essel, and then Essilor.

    Paris Optician Claude Darras working with prototypes of the Varlilux 1 in 1958, saw the need for higher accuracy necessary the new progressive lens, and invented the mirrored pupilometer to improve fitting success.
    Last edited by sharpstick777; 07-03-2013 at 04:03 PM.
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    Master OptiBoarder Darryl Meister's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sharpstick
    Thanks, at least you know Gunther's first name. Was he in Optics? Cameras? Mathematics? what company was he with
    I believe that he was with the German Academy of Sciences at Berlin when he published his articles and patents on aspheric surfaces in the 1960s.

    Best regards,
    Darryl
    Darryl J. Meister, ABOM

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    Since some of you here Apprenticed under Franklin, I am hoping you can fill in any notable information that remains missing from the record. :)

    esp for sources re: Astronomer George B. Airy in c. 1825 who possibly developed the first corrective lenses for Astigmatism (Wikipedia, unverified and uncited).
    Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy ~Benjamin Franklin

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