Ferdinand Monoyer: Who was the ophthalmologist who invented the eye test chart?

French eye doctor developed unit of measurement for the optical power of a lens, called a dioptre

Katie Forster
Tuesday 09 May 2017 07:31
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Ferdinand Monoyer
Ferdinand Monoyer

Around three quarters of people in the UK wear glasses or contact lenses, or have had laser eye surgery to help them see better, according to the College of Optometrists.

Children are also twice as likely to be short sighted compared to 50 years ago – nearly one in five teenagers are now myopic.

Anyone who has had an eye test will have been asked to read rows of letters, which become progressively smaller and harder to recognise, by their optician.

This eye test chart was first invented by Ferdinand Monoyer, a French opthalmologist, or eye doctor, who would have been 181 years old today.

Who was Ferdinand Monoyer?

Born on 9 May 1836 in Lyon, Monoyer studied medicine in Strasbourg and later joined the faculty at the University of Nancy in eastern France.

His father was a French military doctor, who died when he was five years old, and his mother was from the Alsace region on the border between France and Germany.

After his father’s death, his mother Jeanne Monoyer married a respected ophthalmologist called Victor Stoeber, who worked at the University of Strasbourg. Monoyer grew up with his two half sisters.

He travelled to renowned universities in Europe throughout his career, and continued to teach medical students. The last post he held was at the University of Lyon, from 1877 to 1909.

What were his greatest achievements?

Monoyer developed a unit of measurement for the optical power of a lens, called a dioptre – spelt diopter in the US.

In his famous eye chart, each row represents a different dioptre, which measures the distance you would have to be from the text to read it.

Monoyer also inserted his name into the chart. Reading upwards, ignoring the last line, the letters on the left hand side spell ‘Monoyer’.

A representation of Monoyer's eye chart

Is this the best-known eye test?

A Dutch ophthalmologist called Herman Snellen developed a similar chart to Monoyer’s in 1862. The first version used abstract symbols, which were then replaced with letters.

But the most up-to-date, accurate eye chart used today is called a LogMAR chart, which was developed by researchers in Australia in 1976.

The principles of this chart are the same as Monoyer’s and Snellen’s, but more subtle discrepancies in vision can be detected using a standardised system.

What is Monoyer’s legacy?

Monoyer died on 13 July 1912, aged 76. Members of the medical department at the University of Lyon formed a procession at his burial to honour his work, according to the journal Lyon Medical at the time.

The house in Lyon where Monoyer lived has been preserved and is open to visitors for special events such as picnics and walks in the gardens.

His tomb is in the Guillotiere Cemetery in Lyon.

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