Article Date: 7/1/2013

Lessons Learned
lessons learned

He Started in Opera…

…and later made millions selling lens patents. Such is the life of Dr. Graham.



Optometrist Robert Klark Graham was born in 1906, and died in 1997. The story of his life is a fascinating tale. Accomplished singer, then optometrist, then inventor, then multimillionaire, then famous geneticist.

“I wasted seven college years studying singing,” he said in his autobiography. Although his voice was described as being “almost exceptional” (he sang solos twice at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York), he discovered he wasn’t quite good enough to make a living at it. An attorney friend talked Graham into instead pursuing a career in optometry.

The new career

He enrolled at Ohio State in 1935. There, he convinced school authorities to allow him to take the four-year course in just two years, since he had ranked in the upper 1% in the college’s entrance exam.

Even so, he was over 30 years old by the time he got his degree. After graduation he went to work for Bausch + Lomb and then Univis to participate in their research in making ophthalmic lenses out of plastic. After the project was discontinued, Graham and his team left and formed their own company, Armorlite Lens Co.

“We did not know how to manufacture a plastic lens successfully, but we knew (from the years of research at Univis) a great many things not to do,” he said. They produced a “superb” PMMA ophthalmic lens. It had but one fault. It scratched easily. After further research, they produced hard resin ophthalmic lenses, 30 times more resistant to scratching than PMMA, which have now almost completely replaced glass lenses.



During this time, he supported himself by opening an optometric practice limited solely to contact lens patients. “It was slow, for in those days we had only scleral contact lenses, fitted by taking an impression of the eye,” Dr. Graham wrote. “We considered four hours of wearing time quite successful.” In addition, he served as associate professor of contact lens and low vision courses at the Southern California College of Optometry. He is credited with the introduction of a reflection-reducing coating for ophthalmic lenses, the development of colorless ultraviolet absorbing lenses, the invention of the variable focus lens, and the invention of the hybrid corneal lens.

The sale of Armorlite and the lens patents made him a multimillionaire. In 1963, along with geneticist and Nobel Prize winner Herman Muller, he founded the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank which collected only from outstandingly intelligent and healthy men.

The repository received great attention. Dr. Graham felt it would improve the intelligence of the human race. Many critics felt that it was reminiscent of Hitler-like tactics. Evidently, there are today almost 300 children conceived by the Graham repository. Some are reportedly extremely intelligent, but many are not exceptional.

It could backfire

The whole thing reminded me of the story about the beautiful model who approached Albert Einstein and said:

“You and I should have a baby together. With my looks and your brains, we’d have a real winner.”

“Yes,” replied Einstein. “But think what a calamity it would be if it had my looks, and your brain!” OM


Optometric Management, Volume: 48 , Issue: July 2013, page(s): 91