The History of Sir Harold Ridley’s vision


Sir Nicholas Harold Lloyd Ridley, known as Harold (10 July 1906 – 25 May 2001), was an English ophthalmologist who invented the intraocular lens (IOL) in the cure of cataract blindness. Through this pioneering surgery more than 300 million people worldwide have had their sight restored in what is now one of the most common and sophisticated surgical procedures that usually takes 10-20 minutes to perform.


Harold Ridley was born in Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire, the son of Nicholas Charles Ridley also an ophthalmologist. He was educated at Charterhouse School before studying at Pembroke College, Cambridge and completed his medical training in 1930 at St Thomas’ Hospital. He was elected a Fellow of The Royal College of Surgeons (at the youngest possible age of 25) and was appointed a consultant at Moorfields Hospital London in 1938 and St Thomas’s Hospital London in 1946.

The development of the cataract operation and invention of the intraocular lenses.

During World War II, Ridley treated Royal Air Force casualties with serious eye injuries amongst whom was Squadron Leader Gordon “Mouse” Cleaver of 601 Squadron whose sight had been severely damaged when splinters of acrylic plastic from his Spitfire canopy had lodged in both his eyes. Ridley observed, that unusually, the plastic splinters were not rejected by Cleaver’s immune system.

This observation led Ridley to design an artificial or, intraocular (IoL) lens in the cure of cataract blindness. He had a lens manufactured by a British optical company, Raymers Ltd using a medical grade of the same material made by ICI and he performed the first IoL surgery on the 29th November 1949 at St Thomas’ Hospital. In 1952 the first IOL surgery to be performed in the United States was  carried out at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia.

Ridley pioneered IoL surgery in the face of prolonged and severe criticism from the British medical Establishment whose long-established maxim was: ‘always remove foreign objects from the eye’. With many of his international supporters, especially Peter Choyce, Ridley improved the surgical procedure that today has become a highly sophisticated surgical operation that takes 10-20 minutes to perform and which is recognised worldwide as being the modern cure for cataract blindness.

Notwithstanding the criticism of his peers, Ridley later received medical recognition and honours.



Ridley was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society


Ridley received the Gullstrand Medal named after the famous Swedish ophthalmic surgeon Allvar Gullstrand.


He received the Gonin Medal named after the renowned Swiss retinal surgeon Jules Gonin.


honoured in a special anniversary session as one of the most outstanding and influential ophthalmologists of the 20th century


The Intraocular lens invented - possibly represents one of the pioneering examples of modern bio-engineering.