gms | German Medical Science

22nd International Congress of German Ophthalmic Surgeons

18. to 21.06.2009, Nürnberg

From reading stones to multifocal IOLs – on the invention of bifocal glasses

Meeting Abstract

  • Sibylle Scholtz - University Heidelberg, Institute for History of Medicine, Ettlingen, Germany
  • Holger von Kügelgen - University Heidelberg, Eye Clinic, Denzlingen, Germany
  • Gerd U. Auffarth - University Heidelberg, Eye Clinic, Heidelberg, Germany

22. Internationaler Kongress der Deutschen Ophthalmochirurgen. Nürnberg, 18.-21.06.2009. Düsseldorf: German Medical Science GMS Publishing House; 2009. Doc09docPO 4.2

doi: 10.3205/09doc060, urn:nbn:de:0183-09doc0609

Published: July 9, 2009

© 2009 Scholtz et al.
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( You are free: to Share – to copy, distribute and transmit the work, provided the original author and source are credited.



Purpose: This poster is done in honor of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) because of his invention of the first bifocal glasses in 1785.

Setting: University Eye Clinic and Institute for History of Medicine, University Heidelberg, Germany

Method: Historic-critic retrospective literature work with respect of life and work of Benjamin Franklin, the inventor of the first bifocal glasses.

Results: Presbyopia was the first refractive error which has been corrected by optical aids: Alhazen (Ibn Al-Haitham, 965–1040) was the one who initiated presbyopia treatment by using "reading stones". The first useable bifocal glasses for presbyopes, which corrected near and far vision in one frame were invented by US Benjamin Franklin. This poster gives a summary of Franklin’s scientific impact on ophthalmology.

Conclusions: Ongoing research and numerous inventions in corrective lenses led to modern mutifocal glasses, contact lenses, intra-ocular lenses as well as multifocal patterns in refractive laser surgery. Franklin´s invention of bifocal glasses gave the basis for further development in correcting presbyopia which helps millions of people suffering from presbyopia today.