The Father of Ophthalmology

Albrecht von Graefe is widely considered the father of modern ophthalmology. His name may be unfamiliar to most, but he changed ophthalmology in immeasurable ways. This is a short blog post about one of the most interesting men of the 1800s, but it’s fitting; Graefe’s lived as if someone was sitting on the fast-forward button.

That life began on May 22, 1828 in Finkenheerd, a small municipality in Germany, near Poland. He was orphaned at the age of 12. Graefe didn’t mourn for long. He quickly immersed himself in books and school work. At 15 he became the youngest student in the University of Berlin’s storied history. He quickly graduated and began a life-changing journey across Europe.

On his journey, Graefe met many of the world’s leading ophthalmologists, but it was his time in Prague that had the biggest impact. While in the Czech Republic, Graefe studied under Carl Ferdinand von Arlt, a professor of ophthalmology. Arlt found proof that myopia is generally a consequence of excessive length of the sagittal axis of the eye—his most substantial contribution to ophthalmology. Later in life, Graefe would write that this relationship is the reason he returned to Berlin to start an ophthalmology practice. It’s very rare that an intercontinental relationship changed a medical field in such a profound way.

When Graefe returned to Berlin he quickly built a clinic that became famous for the massive amounts of patients it treated. It was at this practice that Graefe invented new tools and made considerable breakthroughs.

First, he completed a successful cataract extraction on a blind man.

Next, he developed one of the first tonometers to measure intraocular pressure.

His biggest breakthrough would be reporting the cure of glaucoma with iridectomy.

Graefe was prolific when it came to ideas and he was also charitable with his skills. Famously, he placed an ad in the paper, offering free eye care for poor people.

Unfortunately, tuberculosis cut his life short at only the age of 42.

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