All Eyes on Black History Month

It’s not that an inordinate amount of attention is paid to the history of optics and optometry principally from a white perspective, it’s not that a lot of attention is paid to the history of optics and optometry at all! But if were to focus even for a moment on the history of optics and optometry, this would be the moment to focus on the contributions made by black doctors, inventors, and industrialists.

In honor of Black History Month, here's a brief look at optics and optometry in a way you haven’t looked at it before.

Eye Protection by Powell Johnson

In light of the fact that the 19th century isn’t particularly known for its commitment to worker safety, Powell Johnson of Barton, Alabama was at least one enigmatic inventor who considered the issue at least concerning. 

On November 20, 1880, Powell Johnson received a patent for an Eye-Protector designed “for use of furnace-men, peddlers, firemen, and others exposed to the glare of strong light, as well as persons of weak sight,” according to the


patent. The first-of-its-kind design is seen as a precursor to the later development of clip-on lenses. Powell’s design had two sets of frames with cloth disks inserted to protect the eyes from bright light.

Kenneth J. Dunkley Sees the World in Three Dimensions

In case you were wondering, U.S. patent no. 853,602 is for Three-Dimensional Viewing Glasses. That’s the classic disposable eyewear with one red plastic lens and one blue plastic lens. 


Considered to be the leading man in the field of holography, the study or production of holograms, Kenneth J. Dunkley discovered he could create a unique visual effect by blocking 2 points in a human’s peripheral vision, which would then transform 2-dimensional visuals into a 3-dimensional space. In short, Dunkley invented 3D Glasses and anyone who’s ever jumped out of their seats as a T-Rex tried to bite their head off has Dunkley to thank for the experience.

Cue the Lasers for Dr. Patricia Bath

An ophthalmologist from New York, Patricia Bath became the first African American woman doctor to receive a patent for a medical invention and at the same time revolutionized the treatment of cataracts in millions of patients.

Dedicating most of her life to the treatment and prevention of blindness in African Americans, in 1988 Dr. Bath patented a unique and specialized technique to remove cataracts quickly and painlessly with a laser device called the Laserphaco Probe, replacing the more barbaric methods in use at the time, which involved grinding and drilling to remove that cataract obstructions. 

Black History in Optics and Optometry Today

Contributions to science and culture may be far less one-dimensional and exclusive than they once were, but we can still lose sight of the diversity of that impact, opportunity, and influence if we’re not deliberately broadening our perspective. 

The vast world of optics and optometry may not be in the spotlight, but organizations like Black Eyecare Perspective and The Vision Council, along with pioneering black-owned eyewear companies across the country are creating and holding space for a different and more diverse way of seeing things.   

Celebrating Black History Monty at Berlin Optical Expressions