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Charles Henry Keeler was an accomplished inventor, cabinet maker, sailor and horse rider. He patented his first instrument, a combined luminous ophthalmoscope and retinoscope, in 1926. Further patents for improving ophthalmic instruments followed in 1927, 1929 and 1934.

He developed an interest in contact lenses and in 1937 made numerous trips to Utrecht , taking with him Edmund Plaice, of Clement Clarke, to learn the manufacture and fitting of glass lenses under the supervision of Professor Henricus Weve and Dr Petrus Thier. They were also accompanied by a technician, Len Rutter, who had worked for C. Davis Keeler from 1917. Rutter was instrumental in the design and construction of special polishing machines for the manufacture of glass contact lenses. In 1938, Maurice Mostyn Brown, also of Keelers, made a 16-mm colour film of the manufacture and fitting of glass contact lenses, a copy of which is held in the archives at Moorfields.


Len Rutter

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Contract between Charles Keeler and Drs Weve and Thier

Keeler co-operated with Clement Clarke of Wigmore Street to set up their own contact lens workshop and it was agreed that lenses would be supplied only under the advice and supervision of a duly qualified medical practitioner. The contact lens department of C. Davis Keeler was headed by Arthur Poole, formerly of Hamblins, in January 1938. Keeler was unhappy with Negocol for making moulds of the cornea and persuaded the Amalgated Dental Company to produce a better material for use on the eye. This was introduced as Ophthalmic Zelex by C. Davis Keeler, Clement Clarke and Hamblins.

During World War II, Keeler was appointed by the Air Ministry to fit burns cases, pilots and observers with protective contact lenses. In 1946 he was the first treasurer of the newly formed Contact Lens Society and became President in 1953-1954. By then he had returned to his earlier interest in ophthalmic instruments for which he secured numerous patents between 1949 and 1976. He was awarded the OBE in 1969 for services to the partially sighted and in 1977 was made an honorary life member of the Contact Lens Society.

‘The Contact Lens Society, Presidential Address, October 19, 1953’ C. H. Keeler, The Optician, 13 November 1953.

Seventy Five Years of Innovation: Keeler’s Company Mission, 1992.