American Optical History  -
AO Scientific Instruments History

AO Scientific Instruments lineage


February 16, 1983

One-hundred-fifty years ago a new era was dawning for America. It was then, William Beecher, a young Southbridge, Massachusetts jeweler, began experimenting with manufacturing techniques that would make spectacles inexpensive enough for the common man. Before long Beecher’s little company was a thriving corporation serving nearly every ocular need, with a constant stream of new and revolutionary products. Today AO Scientific Instruments, division of Warner-Lambert, carries on that tradition by developing and manufacturing the most widely used and respected instruments in the ophthalmologic field. So, when you see our name, think of a company with a century-and-a-half of experience behind us and a bright new day just ahead.

Lineage of AO Scientific Instruments

Dates Business Name

1833-1840 William Beecher

1840-1842 Ammidown & Putney

1842-1849 Ammidown & Son

1850-1859 Ammidown & Co.

1860-1862 Beecher & Cole

1862-1869 Robert H. Cole & Co.

1869-1982 American Optical Co.

1982 AO Scientific Instruments

American Optical was founded in 1833 by William Beecher as a small optical frame shop in Southbridge, Mass. In 1865 George Washington Wells, a typical American innovator-industrialist of the nations growing years, organized the American Optical Company.

From that point American Optical set quality of product as its hallmark, took the whole world for its market and the entire optical spectrum for its product.

AO has pioneered lens improvements that permit people with impaired eye-sight to see more clearly. In many cases these innovations have become standards of the industry and are in use around the world.

Millions of working people depend on AO protective glasses and goggles to protect their eyesight.

AO Microscopes set a standard of excellence in instruments ranging from student models to advanced research systems.

AO is also playing a key role in the development of the new technology of Fiber Optics which is finding broad application in Industry, Medicine and Communication.

AO holds a leadership position in the development of Ophthalmic Instruments for detecting eye disorders and sight deficiencies. No one can duplicate the experience and manufacturing knowledge gained through the design, manufacture, and marketing of these instruments.

Chronological History

1900 - Trial Lens Sets

AO produced a trial lens set design by Charles Prentice. This set was composed of biconcave minus lenses of true curve out the convex plus lenses were designed to neutralize the minus lenses. This meant that the lenses were almost exactly true vertex refractions or effective power. The first lenses so made. This principle is still used in our trial lens sets. Only the rings & cases have been updated.

Optical Heritage Museum collection-
AO Gift to Charles Prentice (1920) but still his basic design

1900 - Trial Frames

Used in conjunction with trial lenses.

1917-1918 - U.S. Entered World War I - AO Produced:

Precision Lenses Telescope Sights

Gun/Bomb Sights Panoramic Sights

1921 - Lensometer first marketed

For making prescription lens measurements.

Early Lensometer (Serial #002) - AO Museum Collection

1925 - Acquired DeZeng Instrument Company of Camden, New Jersey

Manufacturer of eye, ear, nose and throat diagnostic instruments. Most of the DeZeng instruments were redesigned.

1926 - Giantscope

High illumination Ophthalmoscope

1926 - AO VistaMast Giantscope

Loupe, Beebe and Berger head magnifiers for surgery.

1928 - Otoscope

Instrument to examine the ear.

1928 - Phoropter

1931 - Stereo-Orthoptor

Orthoptic training equipment.

1931 - Ophthalmoscope (Friedenwald)

Developed with the cooperation and embodying ideas and methods of Dr. Jonas F. Friedenwald, Associate Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology of John Hopkins Medical School.

1932 - Schematic Eye

For teaching and practicing Retinoscopy and Ophthalmoscopy.

1933 - Ophthalmoscope (May)

1933 - Stereoscope

For visual training.

1934 - Ophthalmometer

Measure radius of curvature of cornea.

1935 - Ophthalmograph

Photographically records every movement made by the eyes while reading.

1935 - Perimeter (Brombach)

1935 - Stereo - Compimeter

Photographically records every movement made by the eyes while reading.

1935 - Acquired Spencer Lens Company

Leading manufacturer of microscopes, leading AO into precision optics, education field and medical instrumentation, etc.

More AO / Spencer lens info:

More about AO Microscopes...

Download AO Spencer Microscope Brochure

1937 - Synoptophone

Used for training the fusion ?

1937 - Metronoscope

Controlled reading conditions.

1938 - Adaptometer (Feldman)

For determining presence of night blindness.

1940 - After Image Tester

To determine retinal correspondence.

1940 - Color Test (Holmgrew)

Colored worsted yarns

1940 - Space Eikonometer

To test for anisokonia

1940 - Lamp - Hague Cataract

For detecting & identifying ocular anomalies

1941 - Project-O-Chart

Projects test characters of proper size for different distances.

1943 - R&D

Major efforts were devoted to develop new military optical products.

1) Navy - A simple aircraft training gunsight.

2) Army - A portable field optical unit.

1943 - Tonometer (Gradle-Schiotz)

Checking innerocular pressure.

1945 - Tachistoscope (Root Nearpoint)

Reading rate training instrument.

1945 - Lamp, Operating

Used for examinations & operative proceedings.

1948 - Stereo - Disparator (Renshaw)

Visual training instrument.

1950 - AO Acquired Wottring Instrument Co. of Ohio

Wallter Drill with his donation to the Optical Heritage Museum of early 1950s AO - Wottring Troposcope

Orthopic Instruments.

1950 - Rotoscope

Orthopic Instrument.

1951 - Walraven Bar Separator

Home or Office visual training.

1953 - Ophthalmoscope (Schepends)

1953 - T. V. Trainer

Home visual training.

1953 - Color Test H.R.R. Pseudorsocromatic

For detecting, classifying, and estimating the degree of defective color vision.

1954 - Screening Perimeter

Orthopic Instrument.

1955 - Mass Vision Test

1955 - Projection Magnifier

For sub-normal vision readings.

1956 - AO Electronic Focusing Lensometer

1957 - Acquired J. W. Fecker, Inc.

Leading manufacturer of optical astronomical instruments.

1958 - Acquired Hanau Engineering, Inc. of Buffalo, NY

Dental instruments.

1958 - Radiuscope

Measure & examine hard contact lenses.

1959 - Surgical Microscope

1959 - Noyori Hand Fundus Camera

1961 - Sold Hanau Engineering Co.

1962 - Acquired Arclier Manufacturing Co. of Rochester

(Ophthalmic Chairs)

1963 - Slit Lamp

Examination with high illumination and high magnification.

1963- AO medical Division starts in Chelsea  MA, moves to Bedford MA in 1966

1964 - Keene Plant was transferred from Instrument Division to Space-Defense Div.

They were currently producing infrared system range finder optics and complex optical systems for the Falcon, TOW, and Shilleleagh missiles.

1965 - Laser, Photo-Coagulator

1965 - Expanded Keene Plant by 30%.

1966 - A new Fiber Optics Plant was built in Southbridge.

Face Plates, data processing control components, Fibroscopes, light guides.

1966 - Additional facilities to Keen Plant.

This facility is now a completely integrated unit capable of doing development engineering, production engineering, and quality manufacturing of electro-optics and mechanical instrumentation.

1966 - Ophthalmoscope, Monocular

1967 - Warner-Lambert acquired American Optical.

1968 - Sold Fecker Division.

1972 - Contact Lens Center

Examining and fitting hard contact lenses.

1972 - Non-Contact Tonometer

~1975 Model NCT donated by Reichert to the Optical Heritage Museum (July 2009)

1978 - SR III Subjective Refractor

1980 - SR IV Subjective Refractor

1981 - The AO Scientific Instrument Group

Scientific Instruments, Ophthalmic Instruments, Fiber Optics was removed from American Optical and assigned to Warner-Lambert Health Technologies Group.

Today, Reichert Ophthalmic Instruments is what was once AO Scientific Instruments

Update 2012: Reichert acquired by Ametek:

Dr. Bernie Grolman 2002 Interview on his Non Contact Tonometer Invention (provided by David Taylor)

Download American Optical 1945 publication - Three American Microscope Builders

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