Museum of Vision

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Ophthalmology on the Home Front

Lt. Joseph Gordon
Lt. Joseph Gordon and James G. Ravin, 1943. Courtesy of James G. Ravin, MD

In the United States, ophthalmology- like other surgical fields- had to contend with war shortages.  Prior to 1939, 85% of surgical instruments were made in Europe and the primary exporter of these was Germany. As Europe went to war, American manufacturing needed to fill the gap. 

During these years, the government launched a campaign to encourage workers to help win the war by making personal sacrifices.  Factory managers soon followed suit, asking employees to suspend union rules, work longer hours, and make other changes in their work patterns to support the war effort.  The U.S. government and private companies produced posters and fliers urging workers to become "production soldiers" in Uncle Sam's army.

One particular area of shortage was spectacles.  Early in the war effort, it was recognized that 18-20% of all military personnel needed visual correction.  Spectacles needed to be made sturdier to withstand combat and to avoid costly replacement in the field.  The Army Medical Department launched a large program to provide spectacles to their troops and awarded the contract to the American Optical Company of Massachusetts.  The demand quickly overwhelmed American Optical's resources and eventually Bausch & Lomb Optical Co. and other smaller manufacturers had to be brought in to fulfill the army's needs.  

At the same time, the Army recognized the need for better protective eyewear. Upon review of WWI data, it was revealed that the majority of eye injuries occurred not from firearms but from flying debris found on the battlefield.  It was concluded that anywhere from 50-90% of eye injuries could be prevented with the proper eyewear.  Protective eyewear was thus made for all fronts, including aviator goggles for pilots, glasses that could fit under gas masks for infantry men, and even goggles for specialized soldiers such as the Army' ski troops.



  1. Ophthalmology on the Home Front
  2. The Academy During Wartime
  3. Personal Stories
  4. Holocaust Memorial

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Sectional Navigation

  1. Extreme Vision: Science Fiction or Truth
  2. Contagion! Epidemics in Ophthalmic History
  3. Spectacular Spectacles
  4. The Eyes of War
  5. To Fool the Eye
  6. Windows to the Soul
  7. Picturing The Eye: Ophthalmic Film and Photography
  8. Collecting Ophthalmology: 30 Years at the Museum

American Academy of Ophthalmology