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Lensometer Earns ‘Landmark’ Status a Century After Revolutionizing Eyecare Industry

It has been 102 years since American Optical changed the optical industry with the launch of this transformational device.




Lensometer Earns ‘Landmark’ Status a Century After Revolutionizing Eyecare Industry

The 1921 AO Lensometer was the first commercial instrument that allowed opticians to accurately verify eyeglass prescriptions on an affordable device.
Courtesy: Optical Heritage Museum

Where would the field of optometry be without the Lensometer? Heck, where would civilization be without American Optical’s breakthrough device?

Most likely in a much blurrier and darker place!

But, seriously, today’s cutting-edge optical industry technology is made possible by the developments of the past. And the 1921 American Optical (AO) Lensometer recently received some due credit for its historical significance.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has designated the AO Lensometer as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. A ceremony was held in celebration of the achievement in March at the Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge, MA. The museum has on display the oldest operational unit in the world.

“It’s amazing to see the Lensometer being recognized 100 years on from its launch,” said Dick Whitney, the Director of the Optical Heritage Museum, in a press release. “Almost everything you use relating to eyeglass lens dispensing in today’s industry can trace its heritage back to the success of the 1921 AO Lensometer.”

Lensometer Earns ‘Landmark’ Status a Century After Revolutionizing Eyecare Industry

Blair Wong (left), the founding Director of Opticianry at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT), and Dick Whitney, Director of the Optical Heritage Museum, examine the museum’s working 1921 American Optical (AO) Lensometer.
Courtesy: Optical Heritage Museum

Dr. Estelle Glancy and Dr. Edgar Tillyer were instrumental in developing the lensometer. Both worked for the American Optical Company, with Dr. Tillyer serving as the director of research at the time.

According to Whitney, it took 10 years of development before the device was ready. But once it launched, it transformed the optical industry. For the first time, opticians had access to an accurate and affordable commercial instrument to verify eyeglass prescriptions.

ASME’s Landmark designation is a notable feat. Less than 300 artifacts in the world have been so designated. From the ASME website:

“Landmarks, sites and collections of historic importance to mechanical engineering are designated by ASME through its History and Heritage Landmarks Program. Landmark status indicates that the artifact, site or collection represents a significant step forward in the evolution of mechanical engineering and is the best known example of its kind.”


American Optical was founded in 1833. The Lensometer was just one of many advancements that helped the company earn a strong reputation in the industry. SOLA purchased AO in 1996. SOLA/AO then merged with ZEISS Vision Care in 2005. The ASME dedication ceremony at the museum was sponsored by ZEISS.


Historical optical artifacts from American Optical, SOLA and ZEISS are among the more than 3,000 items display at the Optical Heritage Museum. The museum is open Wednesday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment.

The museum shared photos from the dedication ceremony in the gallery below. You can see more photos from the event here.


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