by BRIGITTE MUELLER-WELT CAFFREY
In pursuing my quest for recognition of my father Dr. Adolf Mueller-Welt in developing contact lenses, it may be useful for you to have an appreciation of my life within the subject matter at hand.
As in many families, there was very little if any meaningful conversation of one's genealogy beyond the grandparent stage, and even that was rarely of much importance. My knowledge of my forbearers is only of recent origin. I recognize however that in searching for a valid background of my father some attention to the family's history is important, especially because of the conflict and confusion arising from the change in the name in German and the various spellings of the name when anglicized for use in English. Please bear with me if I seem to wander back and forth in this area.
As far as I know, the spelling of the name in Lauscha was Muller, (with an Umlaut over the letter U) and that was a common name for many in that area. As a result, a few resorted to adding a supplement to the base name in order to find some kind of distinction in their various work efforts. To the best of my knowledge, our name was changed by my grandfather, Adolf Alvin Muller. He added the Welt when he moved from Lauscha to Wiesbaden to establish his business there. He was, as were generations before him, an artificial eye maker. The family history carries accounts that as far back as 1900 my grandfather, A. Albin Mueller-Welt, experimented with making glass scleral lenses. Apparently, this was not successful enough to distract him from his primary craft. I do not know when he moved from Lauscha to Wiesbaden. In 1920, when my father was sixteen years of age the family and business moved to Stuttgart. The Muller-Welt name became quite renowned for the superb quality of its artificial eyes. The setting for the business was in part of a very large house that also served as the family's living quarters. That arrangement provided for very close contact between parents and siblings. There were four children, one girl and three boys of which my father, born in 1904, was the eldest son. His two brother, Ernst and Otto were twins born in 1906. Only Ernst went on to higher education. He became an ophthalmologist and practiced as such until his death in France in 1944 while serving his country in his profession.
In 1920, when he was only sixteen, my father began to develop fluidless, glass scleral lenses as his father had tried while yet in Lauscha. My grandfather had mixed feelings about this. While he wanted his son to be inquisitive and inventive in pursuing a new way to correct eyesight he was not eager to lose another member of the family out of the traditional artificial eye making business. Eventually, my grandfather opposed any further efforts on my father's part to try to succeed in making viable contact lenses. This led to a fracture in the family relationship. As early as 1927 my father had succeeded in producing his first hand-blown, fluidless, glass scleral lenses. Only money stood in the way. By that time he had to make a decision for his future. In 1928 he married my mother, Ruth Raisig. She had a reasonable inheritance upon her father's death and was willing to use it to advance my father's ambition. They married in 1928 and that same year my father applied for his first patent on a method of making fluidless, glass scleral lenses. The patent was issued in 1930 as patent number DRP. Nr. 553843. There were many other patents over the years, some in his name and some jointly with Herr Herman Polte an optical engineer who had been with Zeiss. In 1963 Herr Polte left the Mueller-Welt firm and formed his own business in Stuttgart. In the 1970s, Herr Polte showed me and my husband these patents. One of his complaints was that because holding a patent in Germany became more costly by the year, my mother insisted that the patents be allowed to expire. That was a very large and costly mistake. It allowed others unfettered access to my father's work and to be able to produce the formerly protected items as their own.
On the other hand, the company had certain major advantages over any rising competitors. My father literally designed and made the complex machinery that allowed him to produce quality lenses in vast amounts without sacrificing quality.
But, back to my personal observations. Being born in 1936 was not a good choice on my part. It was the year that consumer goods such as butter began to be rationed in preparation for the needs of the expanding armed forces. As a child, I saw that we were extremely well off in terms of what money could provide, which became less and less as the buildup of the armed forces drained goods that normally would have been used in the civilian market. We had house servants and nannies to care for us,but not much else.
We lived on the third story of a five story apartment building, but the lenses were being produced, along with the artificial eyes, at the combination home and factory at Sonnenbergstrasse 23, Stuttgart. It was the home of my grandparents and the place where my father and his siblings, a sister and two brothers, grew up. It was apparent that my father had succeeded far beyond rational expectations in producing and marketing a product that had wide public support and appeal. The lenses were being sold in scores of cities in Germany and foreign countries. My father's nephew, Joerg Mueller-Welt, still produces artificial eyes at that same location. You can find information about his business on the Internet.
The onslaught of the war brought immediate consequences to my father's business.
Supplies of material and workers became critical. Bombardment of Stuttgart put both the family and the business in harms way. In order to protect their children, my mother and father had my sister and I sent to safe haven in Bavaria. Later, as the bombing became unbearably serious, my parents had us return to them in Stuttgart so that in the event of their death in the cellar of our house, we would also die and not be left as orphans to roam the world alone. Fortunately, that did not happen and we all survived. It was during these years while I was yet a very young child that my father and mother spent many months in Germany and its occupied territories fitting lenses to German officers. My best recollection is that they took with them large carrying cases of contact lens. I have heard that the cases carried as many as 10,000 lenses so that all possible needs
could be met.