Lembke, Charles F., 1898-1900

Charles F. Lembkeb. 1835, Carlsruhe [Karlsruhe], Germany
d. September 1, 1903, Brooklyn, New York

Charles F. Lembke was elected the first president of the American Association of Opticians [AOA] at the 1st Congress held at the Broadway Central Hotel, New York, NY on October 10-12, 1898.

Lembke was born in Germany and immigrated to New York in the mid-nineteenth century (circa 1850) where he trained under prominent New York optician, Charles Alt.  Lembke briefly operated his own business as a dispensing optician before entering a partnership with Julius Gall.  Gall & Lembke built a successful practice catering to the political elite.  After Gall's death in 1883, Lembke continued to operate the business, but in 1901 he sold his share to J.A. Theodore Obrig.  Obrig ran the business with Lembke's sons, Charles Jr. and Emil, until their deaths in 1903 and 1906, respectively.   Charles Lembke, Sr. and his wife Emma (née Walter, d. 1895) also had a daughter, Emma Reichmann.  Lembke died at his sister's home in Brooklyn, NY in September of 1903. 

Lembke's involvement in the American Optometric Association as well as his membership in the New York Academy of Science and the Astronomical Society of Brooklyn illustrates his inquisitive nature and his identification as a scientist above all else.  Lembke promoted improvements in educational programs for optometrists and legislation to limit the "grinding out" of poorly trained opticians that threatened the health and well-being of the public. His belief in optometry as a scientific discipline is evident in his advocacy of a "three-year course of study" in optics to include physics, mathematics and chemistry.

As a "dispensing optician," Lembke's election was significant; the Association limited membership to "refracting opticians" two years later in 1900.  In his addresses to the Association, Lembke expressed his desire to foster cooperation among "mechanical" and "refracting" opticians as well as manufacturers of ophthalmic equipment in order to form a powerful and unified "parent organization" that would act on behalf of the industry.  The Association's first few years were marked by rivalries pivoting on the role of optometrists as health care practitioners and their distinction from their partners in retailing and dispensing ophthalmic products.   These discussions were most heated during Lembke's tenure and their outcome shaped the future of the Association and the profession. 


 "Death of Charles Lembke." The Jeweler's Circular Weekly, September 9, 1903, 88.

Gregg, James R.   American Optometric Association: A History. (St. Louis, MO: American Optometric Association, 1972), 9-11.

Lembke, Charles F. "President Lembke's Address." Optical Journal 6:7 (September 1899): 562-564

Lembke, Charles F.  "Letter from President Lembke." Optical Journal 6:9 (November 1899): 736

Lembke, Charles F.  "President Lembke's Annual Address." Optical Journal 7:9 (1900): 783-786

Lembke, Charles F.  "Letter from President Lembke." Optical Journal 12:45 (October 1903): 553

Salvatori, Philip L. "Century of Optical Service." Guildcraft. 15:5 (March-April-May 1942): 33-39

Walter, Marion (genealogist and family historian).  E-mail to Linda Draper, Special Collections Librarian. April 14, 2009