Wilhelm Mueller-Welt, D.O.S.
Below, is an English language version of
testimonial remarks given by Rolf Weinschenk, an employee of the
Mueller-Welt G.m.b.H. in Stuttgart, Germany, on the occasion of the
65th birthday of Adolf Wilhelm Mueller-Welt. They
were translated from German to English by Adolf’s daughter,
Brigitte, and edited by her husband, Edwin James Caffrey.
They are the property of Brigitte Mueller-Welt Caffrey, then a
partner in the company.
On July 8, 1969, Adolf Mueller-Welt celebrated
his 65th birthday. With this event it becomes clear that
even though contact lenses are now relatively common, their
entry into the world of vision was only a few years back.
Particularly on such a day does one realize, that without the
achievements, the knowledge, the patience and the personal demeanor
of a pioneer like Adolf Mueller-Welt, contact lenses would not have
the meaning that they have today.
For more than 40 years the person we are
honoring has dedicated himself to contact lens development,
something that he looked upon as his life’s work. Long before they
became universal he had made them and personally fitted them to
patients. Often others laughed at him and criticized him, but he
persevered and brought what was in his mind through laborious detail
of disentangling the thoughts that were in his head and bringing
those thoughts to fruition, a fluidless contact lens.
There was no such thing as an ancillary
industry, no text books, and no schooling to give him a foundation
for his ideas. There were no specialty personnel available in the
labor market. He had to do everything he conceived using his own
will power under often difficult times - like the war times.
He got his idea to make scleral lenses from his
experience making artificial eyes in the family business. He made
and fitted his first lenses in the 1920s. He had an excellent
working relationship with well known ophthalmologists. They worked
together to use the fluidless scleral lenses to treat patients with
Keratokonus. This helping mankind live a better life was the
enduring part of the character of Adolf Wilhelm Mueller-Welt.
Before the end of World War Two, he, almost
beyond comprehension, made fluidless contact lenses from silicate
glass. Following the war the lenses were made from plastic because
of the soaring price of the proper glass.
The development of contact lenses can best be
described by identifying each major step in his progress. Adolf was
born in Wiesbaden after his parents had moved there from Lauscha,
Thueringen. Later, in 1920, the family moved to Stuttgart where his
father established an Institute for making and fitting artificial
eyes. All of the work and living was done in the large and
beautiful home at 23 Sonnenbergstrasse, Stuttgart.
1924: When he was only 20 years
old, he made his own blowing trials of scleral lenses, using
artificial eyes and crystal glass.
1925: Blew trial, fluidless scleral
lenses from glass that he got from Schott of Jena.
1927: Successfully produced and
fitted the first, marketable, fluidless contact lens. For this
process he used gypsum and marble dies to mold fluidless scleral
1928: Filed for patent on this
process with the German government. Used his knowledge to deviate
from the original eye shape, thereby changing the “eyeappleform” to
natural forms. He did this by using a photographic layout,
knowledge of asymmetry, corneal diameter and vertical heights.
1930: Patent Nr. 553843 approved by
1931: Widening of the scleral parts
through asymmetric formation.
1932: Publishing by German
government of approved 1930 patent.
1933: After a visit with Professor
Heine in Kiel, he began the process of relaxing the tension in the
glass with the object of guarding against supplemental glass
1934: Polished the edge of the lens
to a specific diameter and again melted and relaxed the edge. This
was the beginning of burgeoning sales.
1935: Expanded the follow-up
polishing of the inner curve.
1936: First mechanical inner-flat
1937: First mechanical outer flat
1938: By doing his own fitting he
found certain imperfections. Improved the outer polishing work.
1939: Perfected the first thickness
1940: Made automatic relaxation
ovens with heating and conveyer controls. Made trips to Middle,
North and East Germany.
1941: Purchase of corneal
microscope with slit lamp. First experience with corneal lesions and
Edema. Use of fluorescent observation.
1942: Began producing stock
sets with 5,000 to 6,000 lenses in each set. Mr. and Mrs.
Mueller-Welt, accompanied by their trusted longtime worker Fraeulein
Leipold, began traveling to all parts of Germany, Austria and
Czechoslovakia fitting lenses to German officers, who were not
allowed to wear eyeglasses while in uniform.
1944: Stopped such traveling because of the
deteriorating condition of the war for Germany. The company began to
try doing the edge work with a diamond cutting apparatus. Shortages
of the right kind of glass and natural gas were drastically effected
by the night bombardments on Stuttgart. A remedy was found in using
carbide, wood gas and coal gas.
1945: French occupation troops came to the
house on 23 Sonnenbergstrasse that housed not only the family
but where artificial eyes and contact lenses were being made, but
did not occupy it as a billet. Regular production began again on May
15, 1945. That year saw Mr. Hoffmannsbeck and Mr. Weinschenk come to
Adolf seeking work. Mr. Weinschenk worked for Adolf Mueller-Welt
until sometime after Adolf died in 1972. Great numbers of American
and French soldiers got fitted with the wonder lenses.
1946: This year saw Mr. Bordt from
Frankfurt, Mr. Soehnges from Munich and Mr. Polte from the Zeiss
company. Mr. Bordt was an optician who came to learn to fit scleral
lenses and left to open his own fitting institute in Frankfurt. He
was a very loyal person to Adolf. Mr. Soehnges had fitted a few of
the Zeiss lenses before the war but knew little else. He soon
learned the entire operation and left to form his own company in
Munich that he later sold to Cooper Vision for millions of dollars.
Weinschenk became what can be classified as the person who handled
outside contacts. He also did some fitting and he managed the
establishing of the licensed and company owned fitting institutes.
1947: The business was in high
gear. People with special vision problems were coming from all over
Germany. Mostly these were people who could not be helped with
normal eyeglasses. Many had Keratoconus, a condition that scleral
lenses were effective in restoring vision.
1948: Work began on January 2nd
in the building at Nr. 5 Fangelsbachstrasse. This happened after
Adolf and his brother Otto divided the combined artificial eye work
and the contact lens work. A new company was formed specifically for
producing contact lenses under the sole ownership of Adolf
This same year brought about two drastic
changes in the business. One, was the change over from the Deutsch
Mark to the Reichs Mark. All prior holdings were wiped out.
Finances of people and businesses had to begin over without capital.
This was accompanied by a necessary changeover in the process of
making the lenses. Glass became too expensive and it was replaced by
plastic. This required an entirely new method of making the lenses.
Adolf made brass male and female molds. A ball bearing was installed
in the male mold and the power was meticulously ground onto it. A
female mold was constructed in the reverse of the male mold.
The plastic was pressed between the molds under pressure in an oven.
After cooling, the lens was removed, cut to size and polished.
1949: Adolf and family moved to Canada in
anticipation of going to The United States in a contractual
arrangement with Mr. Breger. When the Mueller-Welts finally entered
into The United States, Adolf made many contacts with
Ophthalmologists and Universities with schools of optometry.
There he made his first experiments with corneal lenses. The fitting
institutes called Contacta were opened in Hanover and Duesseldorf.
1950: Certain mathematical calculations were
obtained from Engineer Vetter. Fitting technique experience led to
the type “S” scleral lens which even today is still the foundation
of fitting scleral lenses. The company opened a Contacta fitting
institute in Stuttgart on Koenigstrasse. This institute was enlarged
in 1954, 1957, 1959 and 1961.
Awarded degree of Doctor of Ocular Science by
the Chicago College of Optometry on September 22, 1950.
1951: The first corneal lens was
fitted, being made through the pressing technique.
1952: Expanded the scleral
lens(Type S)to very steep and very flat parts of the sclera.
1953: Specialized in
developing the scleral lenses for Keratoconus range (Type S)
and medical lenses for clinical application. The Stuttgart Contacta
Institute became the training center for all employees. Much time
was spent traveling throughout the cities of West and South Germany.
1954: Introduced a new, flat
fitted, two curve, corneal lens. Had only limited success with this
1955: While fitting corneal lenses,
the company began to use a fluorescent lamp made by the Wood
Company. The results showed that a rethinking of fitting corneal
lenses was an absolute necessity.
1956: The two curve corneal lens,
(Type CN), allowed the company to withdraw from flat fitting corneal
lenses. This year brought the first business convention of
specialists in contact lenses, a precursor to the VDC that was
organized in 1958.
1957: The beginning of using
cleaning and wetting solutions in Germany. It was the year in which
Trypablue was used.
1958: Use of the UV (Fluorescent)
lamp was used to produce pictures for diagnosis because fitting
lenses without the ultraviolet light was not allowing the fitter to
actually see how the lens was floating on the eye. The workroom was
reorganized to give the specialists individual work space. This was
the year that the Coalition of German Contact Lens Specialists (VDC)
was organized. Adolf Mueller-Welt was one of the eight
founding members of the VDC. Adolf Mueller- Welt designated
his Stuttgart employee, Rolf Weinschenk, to represent the
Mueller-Welt company on the VDC. This was because the Mueller-Welts
were still in Detroit operating International Lens Laboratories.
1959: The Pola test instrument was introduced
into the company Institute Contacta in Stuttgart. The company opened
a new company-owned Contacta Institute in Hamburg. In this same year
the company began a widespread series of technical lectures at
contact lens conventions. Work was begun on the new Type CM lens.
1960: The Mueller-Welts returned to
Germany and the Germany based business.
1961: Full use of a lathe to
1962: The company made a major
effort to expand its production of colored lenses.
1963: First time that multicurved
(more than two curves) contact lenses were successfully fitted.
1964: Grinding and polishing that
had been performed by hand was abandoned and replaced by machine
polishing. The company began to emphasize working with technical
schools and with special university courses dealing with contact
lenses, much as Adolf had done when he lectured and fitted difficult
cases at the University of Pennsylvania and Ohio State while
operating the company in Detroit.
1965: The three curve corneal lens
called Type CNM were released and became an immediate success world
1966: Sphaero-toriche contact lens
Type ZAZ made corrections that allowed patients with higher
astigmatism to comfortably wear corneal lenses. A company-owned
Contacta was opened in Munich. The Mueller-Welt company
initiated the Association of German Contact Lens Manufacturers.
Bought a new Phoroptern that allowed precise determination of
1967: The company held its fifth
conference in Stuttgart with international participation. The
company made its first improvements on the multi-focal and bi-focal
Type CNM in the Keratoconus category. Adolf Mueller-Welt
suffered a severe heart attack.
1968: The company produced and
fitted the first Micro-lenses, which were a huge success.
1969: This year saw the first
trials and results with outer and inner toric lenses.
Up to today, (Adolf’s 65th
birthday), he continues to work tirelessly at improving the
usefulness of contact lenses. He is constantly working on new
developments, especially with an eye on new materials that may
emerge to allow continuing practical use of contact lenses as an
accepted way to improve the medical conditions being faced by
ophthalmologists and general public use.
The development of contact lenses is a
continuing process, and Adolf Mueller-Welt remains in the forefront
of the industry that sprang from his very first patent, German
Patent Nr. 553843, when at age of only 24 he successfully introduced the first patented, fluidless, scleral contact lens, thereby
allowing the process of contact lens development to become a vital
part of the world’s progress in human visual improvement by
caring for people with imperfect visual acuity or serious medical
eye problems such as Keratoconus.
His co-workers wish him well in his continuing
devotion to the task to which he devoted his entire life’s work.
When the history of contact lenses begins to be published in future
years, Adolf Wilhelm Mueller-Welt must be acknowledged as the
legitimate father of the practical contact lenses we all enjoy.
The above was written, in part, by one of his
employees, on the occasion of the 65th birthday of Adolf
Wilhelm Mueller-Welt, the true pioneer of modern contact lenses.