Museum of the Eye – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura

San Francisco, California

Museum of the Eye

A free, public museum dedicated to the fascinating science of sight. 

How do you see the world? Find out at the Museum of the Eye,  a free, public museum dedicated to the fascinating science of sight. Look through the pupil of an enormous eye, explore interactive displays and try on a virtual reality headset to see how new technology can impact medicine. Through high-tech exhibits and a renowned collection of ophthalmic artifacts, visitors discover surprising facts about how vision works and the field of medicine devoted to protecting it.

The collection traces the history of ophthalmology through its 10,000 artifacts, rare books, and extensive archives. The collection dates from the third century B.C. to the present, and includes the history of the Academy, personal physician papers, medical instruments, over one thousand spectacles, and additional vision aids.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology was founded in 1896, going on to establish The Foundation which used its funds to create the Museum of Vision in 1980. The Museum is dedicated to the dissemination of educational materials, exhibitions, publications, and research information to members of the medical community and the general public and aims to educate people about the eye, sight and the history of eye care.

The San Francisco Headquarters features a small array of the intricate 19th-century optometry instruments and artwork, with the exhibits changing out periodically. The website features exhibits past and present, including: ‘Eyes Examined’, an examination of 19th-century case studies; ‘Spectacular Spectacles’, a history of eye glasses and vision aids; ‘Eyes of War’, World War II from the point of view of ophthalmologists who participated in the war; ‘To Fool the Eye’, insight into myths surrounding American medicine; ‘Windows to the Soul’, ancient legend and folklore surrounding eyes and sight.

The Museum also makes available its archived collection that is not on the public floor of the museum. Tours of the behind the scenes collection are by call-in appointment, and led by a knowledgeable member of the staff.

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