I Only Have Eyes for You… My Little Frame Warmer

Have you ever sat on your sunglasses and when you put them on they are lopsided and do not fit right anymore?  Now imagine that pair was your eyeglasses.   In order to fix your glasses your optometrist might use a frame warmer.

A frame warmer was used to adjust the eye glass frame fittings or to insert lenses.  It worked by warming the part of the frames needing adjustment to make it malleable.  The warmer could work several different ways.  One was to heat the air and apply directly to the piece of the frame needing adjustment or another was to heat salt or glass beads to a certain temperature and the stick the piece of the frame needing adjustment into the salt or glass beads.

High Plains Museum | P174 Frame warmer

High Plains Museum |
P174
Frame warmer

Raymond F. E. Stegeman the assignor of the Bausch & Lomb Company patented the design for the frame warmer we have in our collection in 1952.  It was designed so both small and large portions of the frames could be adjusted with a steady and intense heat.  To keep the user safe it was designed to have heat conducting and guiding means placed around the heat source which protected the user from burns.  It also maximized the heat to make the process of adjusting the frames more efficient and effective.  The heating source was an infrared lamp which could reach very high temperatures and unlike previous models heat shields would not need to be moved which wasted heat and was dangerous to the user.

Bausch and Lomb is one of the oldest continually operating companies in the United States.  During the company’s history it made technological innovations for a wide variety of optical products including microscopes, binoculars, the first contact lens and created the lens used on the cameras that took the first satellite pictures of the moon.  Today it is the largest global provider of eye care products.  In the 1950’s Bausch and Lomb made the frame warmer in our collection which was then used by Dr. Dale D. Vermillion of Goodland.

Dr. Dale Vermillion and his wife came to Goodland in 1935 to take over the medical practice of Dr. Hammers.  Dr. Vermillion

High Plains Museum | PM299MISC Dr. Vermillion administering a polio vaccine.

High Plains Museum |
PM299MISC
Dr. Vermillion administering a polio vaccine.

practiced general medicine for three years before going to Boston to specialize in ears and eyes at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary.  During his roughly 26 years of practice Dr. Vermillion used such instruments, like the frame warmer, in his daily practice.  He was an active member in our community serving on the school board and in organizations like the Elks and Rotary.

To get a sense of where frame warmers fit in, let’s take a brief look at optometry’s very interesting history.  In 1286 an unknown artisan invented spectacles in northern Italy.  Johannes Kepler explains the function of the retina and how convex and concave lenses can correct myopia and hyperopia in 1604.  The first eye doctor in the United States, John McAllister Sr. set up his office in 1783 in Philadelphia.  John McAllister & Son would eventually to start making eye glasses and stay in business until the early 20th century.  Hermann von Helmholtz invented the first ophthalmoscope in 1851 which allowed him to see the inside of the living eye.

Charles F. Prentice.  The father of American optometry.

Charles F. Prentice. The father of American optometry.

In 1847 James Prentice arrived in the U.S.   His son, Charles F. Prentice would become the father of American optometry and in 1895 would be threatened with jail for charging for an eye exam!   In 1896 Prentice would for the Optical Society which would eventually become the American Optometric Association.  You can thank Hermann Snellen for the eye chart we all know today to test and measure our visual acuity.  He invented this chart in 1862.  The first state law to recognize optometry as a practice was put in the books in 1901 in Minnesota.  For more information about the history of optometry visit the History of Optometry timeline.  Around the 1950’s frame warmers started to figure prominently in optometry.  Frame warmers are an important piece of equipment for an optometrist because the fit of glasses is so important to the wearer.

Can you imagine not having your glasses fit right, or having the left side higher than the right?  Frame warmers make sure this doesn’t happen.  The frame warmers in use today look a lot different than the frame warmer we have in our collection but they all perform the same task.  Objects like a frame warmer make us stop and think of the objects that help make our lives easier but we don’t normally pay much attention to or even know exist.

Look for more posts in this series about our wonderful collection of Sherman County history.

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