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Plastic Eyes


What would a dentist serving overseas likely do during wartime? If your answer involves teeth extractions, peddling toothpaste or flossing, you may be surprised.

Col. W. E. Cole was a dentist in Bismarck who went to serve his country during World War II. On this date in 1945, he was working in the 218th General Hospital in Hawaii, but he was using his delicate skills to work with more than teeth - Col. Cole was chief of the dental service in the ward where plastic eyes were made.

These plastic eyes were designed to be indistinguishable from a real eye. They were more durable than ordinary glass eyes, and less likely to break. Moreover, these all-plastic, artificial eyes were the first of their kind. Produced by the Army, they were manufactured in the only dental prosthetic laboratory of its kind in the Pacific theater.

To make the eyes, the doctors painted an iris on a disk embedded on a tiny plastic lens. They made an impression of the eye socket to get the shape and size of the eye, then formed a wax model, fitting the iris onto it. They used the wax model to create a mold, then melted away the wax. Acrylic resin was then poured into the mold, tinted the same as the patient’s natural eye. This new eye was then baked and polished. To make it look more true to life, they used small rayon fibers for veins, and even processed a covering to give the new eye a realistic gleam. And since the doctors were careful to spare all muscles when they removed the patient’s damaged eye, the patient could move the fake eye almost as if it were real.

The process may sound complicated, but according to Cole, it was successful. He reported back to family and friends after they fitted Tennessee native Jesse King with the first of these new eyes. King was happy with the procedure and felt renewed confidence after the operation ... a tribute to the hospital and the dentists.

In restoring an eye-for-an-eye, Colonel Cole, the dentist from North Dakota, proved he could work with far more than teeth!

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


The Bismarck Tribune, July 30, 1945