Contact Lens Pioneer, Adolf Mueller-Welt    

Contact Lens












    Dr. Adolf 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 lenses.

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 German government.

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 breakage.

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 polishing machine.

1937:   First mechanical outer flat polishing machine.

1938:   By doing his own fitting he found certain imperfections. Improved the outer polishing work.

1939:   Perfected the first thickness control.

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  Mueller-Welt.

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 lens.

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 produce lenses.

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 wide.

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 refraction.

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.