“Helmholtz was not an ophthalmologist. Yet he was the one who pulled back the curtain to show what was happening down there in the depths of the eye.”
—H. Stanley Thompson, MD
Hermann von Helmholtz was born in Potsdam, Germany. As a young man, he was primarily interested in physics and physiology, but chose medicine as the more practical course of study. To the world, Helmholtz is best known for his doctrine of the conservation of energy, but it was his 1850 invention of the ophthalmoscope that revolutionized ophthalmology. The first ophthalmoscope was a crude instrument fashioned out of lenses and cardboard, but it offered something never seen before—a glimpse of the living human retina. He improved the ophthalmoscope during his lifetime and produced the classic text on optics, Physiological Optics. Helmholtz’ influence was also felt in acoustics, mathematics, mechanics, electricity, and meteorology, marking him as one of the great scientific minds of the 19th century.