Biographical / Historical
Major Milton S. Wirtz, head of the dental section at the U.S. Army base at Camp Crowder, Missouri, was one of the pioneers in plastic eye prosthesis. He became aware of the concerns of people with artificial eyes while working with a dental technician who was very displeased with the glass eye he was wearing. In addition, his interest in plastics and his work with them in dentistry fueled his desire to fabricate an artificial eye.
About the same time, two other army dentists became involved in making artificial eyes of plastic materials. Major Victor Dietz in Atlantic City and Captain Stanley F. Erpf in England. These three dentists were brought together by order of the Surgeon General at the Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, to pool their knowledge of plastics, science, and medicine and to found the "Artificial Eye Laboratory." In six months they had perfected the technique and developed an instruction program for training technicians. After only one month these technicians were known as opthalmoprosthetists.
Prior to the development of the plastic prosthesis, artificial eyes were made of glass by a manufacturer in Germany, using a closely guarded process. The acute need for artificial eyes at the start of World War Two became apparent when the supply from Germany was curtailed and the existing supply in the United States was rapidly depleted. In addition, glass eyes were unsatisfactory as they broke easily, exploded in acute temperature changes, were not custom fitted, and gave the appearance of staring since they did not move. All these problems were eliminated with plastic artificial eyes.
Major Wirtz received the Legion of Merit Medal from the Army and accolades and awards from the Iowa Dental Association for his wartime contribution. After the war he worked for a short time at Fitzsimmons General Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Though he became a millionaire on his royalties, he ultimately returned to Latimer, Iowa, to practice family dentistry.