Our Family History

Mager & Gougelman, Inc., today’s premier Ocularists, devoted to the practice of custom fitting and quality manufacturing of ocular prostheses, was founded in the United States in 1851 by Peter Gougelmann, under the original name Gougelmann & Company. Following years of training and practice in Europe, Peter introduced the custom fabrication of glass ocular prostheses to New York City, which continues as the hub of current operations. The introduction of custom fabrication was a major advancement in ocular care in the U.S. since prior to this time only imported stock glass eyes were “fitted” in eye sockets. The company’s founding father, Peter, was born in Meisterschwanden, Canton of Aargau, Switzerland, on the 5th of may 1821, the same day Napoleon died. He received his education as a youth in Switzerland under niederer, a student of the famous Professor Pertalozzi and then spent several years at a university in Germany.

After his schooling, Peter immigrated to France and apprenticed under Professor Boissonneau of Paris who was the recognized meister in the field of ocularistry. Since both Peter and the Professor were in a unique profession, artificial eye making, and both were fluent in several languages, it afforded the pair the opportunity to travel to many European countries making custom glass eyes for the needy. The association of Peter and the Professor continued over a number of years until Peter decided to introduce his skill to the Americas. Peter and his young wife, Marie, a native of Yvardon, Switzerland, sailed for New York City in 1848.

For the first several years Peter was in New York City, he devoted his time and efforts to the research and development of the basic materials found in the United States that were needed for his profession. From these materials solid glass colored rods and hollow white tubes were formed for use in the craft of artificial eye making. To assist him, Peter located a German chemist in New York City by the name of F. Bauch who had a vast knowledge of glass and the necessary ingredients used to produce the special type of glass for hand blowing glass eyes to which Peter was accustomed to working with in Europe. Besides the basic white shades of the sclera, a glass eye needed a variety of colors to be infused to reproduce the veins, iris color, and pupil. Finally, a clear crystal layer is melded over the entire pupil and iris area in order to acquire the three-dimensional appearance. This procedure of melding, known as corneal fusing, was derived and held as one of the many family trade secrets of the time.

After accomplishing the production of the glass ingredients for an artificial eye, Peter opened a small office at 561 Broadway in New York City with Mr. Bauch. Peter and his wife, Marie, raised six children, three girls and three boys. The oldest son, Walter, apprenticed under Peter and, after years of training, became a qualified Ocularist. Peter suddenly died in 1894. At the time of his father’s death, Pierre was attending New York City University. He abruptly left his studies and apprenticed under Walter’s tutelage. The two brothers continued the family craft and partnership under the name Gougelmann & Company, at their office on Van Dam Street, and later at 117 East 12th Street. As word spread of the two brothers’ reputation for custom artificial eye fitting and fabrication, the company moved to a larger office at 108 East 12th Street, to accommodate the growing patronage. The office remained at this location for the next fifty years.

By this time Walter and Pierre had acquired a very large clientele. After Walter’s death, at an early age from a heart attack, Pierre decided to hire several experienced glass eye artisans from Germany. As business continued to prosper Pierre also took in two partners, Henry and George Mager. Gougelmann & Company became Mager & Gougelmann, Inc. The Magers were excellent Ocularists and businessmen and since there was a great demand for custom eye replacements due to accidents and disease, Pierre and his new partners saw the need to expand their business and started a regular monthly trip schedule. They traveled to: Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Albany, Buffalo, Chicago, and Detroit.

As the business of custom eye making continued to grow, Paul, the third and youngest of Peter Gougelmann’s sons, was introduced into the company. Paul rapidly demonstrated his expertise for management. Pierre sent him to the Chicago office together with several trained glass eye technicians. Although Paul did not fabricate glass eyes for patients, he promoted the advantages of custom fabricating glass eyes over stock eyes. As word spread in the Midwest of the advantages of having a glass eye custom fabricated and custom fitted the demand grew, Paul felt the need to expand. He opened a number of permanent branch offices in Detroit, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Kansas City, St. Louis, and New Orleans. In the meantime, Pierre opened up permanent branches in Boston, Buffalo, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C..

In 1929, the last of the Mager brothers died. Mager & Gougelmann, Inc., moved to 510 Madison Avenue with new apprentices and technicians. Pierre Gougelmann’s nephew, Fred Michel, apprenticed and became one of the glass eye-makers. Pierre’s brother-in-law, John Spahr, joined the firm as manager of the Washington, D.C. branch office. Even though John could not make a glass eye, he became an expert fitter. Paul’s wife in a previous marriage bore a son, Hampton MaClaughlin. Hampton was introduced into the Chicago office management and became an expert artificial eye fitter. Fred Michel’s son-in-law, Hugh Laubheimer, was trained to make and fit glass eyes in the New York office. Pierre’s daughter, Marie Anita, after graduating from college spent several years learning to make and fit artificial eyes but left to follow her college major in biology.

During WWII, Paul’s son, Paul Jr., worked with the Army in using a new type of material “plastic.” To save money, the veterans administration trained military dentists to fit plastic eyes. By training the dentists with the new “plastic” technique the veterans administration would not have to pay private glass eye makers to fit veterans from WWI and WWII.

In 1950, Henry, the current owner and president of Mager & Gougelman, Inc., Pierre’s younger son, graduated from college and joined his father. Pierre first taught Henry to make and fit glass eyes but, because of the many advantages of plastic over glass, Henry soon switched to fitting and fabricating plastic prostheses which techniques he learned from the plastic ocularists in Mager & Gougelman, Inc. Henry spent several years working under the guidance and tutelage of Ray Jahrling in the Boston branch office of Mager & Gougelman, Inc.

Mager & Gougelman, Inc. and the other custom artificial eye makers around the country saw a trend in the fitting of plastic eyes. Many different professions began fitting plastic eyes ie: dentists, opticians, optometrists, etc. With the plastic eye being made and fitted by non-trained ocularists, the custom artificial eye makers found themselves in monetary difficulty. However, with non-trained eye-makers trying to come into the artificial eye business, numerous problems began to arise. The plastic used in making the eyes was not being cured properly, the eyes were ill fitted and the colors of the eyes were too generic. Hence, the trained eye makers banned together to form an artificial eye makers society. The goal of the group was to continually elevate the standard of knowledge required in fitting and fabricating artificial eyes. Pierre, his son Henry, and the other professional artificial eye makers, founded the American Society of Ocularists 1957 on three principles; Research, Education and Standards.

Pierre retired in 1957, at the age of 80, after closely supervising the development of Henry’s considerable and growing expertise. Pierre was assured Henry would continue to serve the firm well with a full grasp of the company’s family trade secrets combined with technological advancements in materials to further benefit the physical comfort and cosmetic appearance of his numerous patients, notably at the time: Joseph Pulitzer, Senator Thomas Gore, General Archibald Wavell, Alfred I. Du Pont, Paul Muni, Peter Falk, and Helen Keller. Pierre died in 1963.

Times were changing and so was the field of ocularistry: An increase in business competition and individual independence. Henry, Paul jr., and Hampton made a business decision and decided to sell most of the branch offices to their managers and eye technicians. Paul Jr., left the field of ocularistry all together and established his own company, Paul Gougelman, Inc..  His company manufactured stock plastic eyes, plastic tile, talking baby dolls, etc. Hampton continued in the Chicago office, but finally sold it and retired.

Henry, keeping in the family tradition, retained the New York City office and the Boston, MA office, opened a branch office in Hempstead, NY, and continued making quarterly trips throughout New York State, Connecticut, Maine, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Thomas, V.I. He also opened a branch office in New Haven, CT,  in 1994 together with his sons Andrew and David.

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, Henry was one of the early founders of the American Society of Ocularists. The society established the ethics and fundamental methods for ocularistry in the united states.

The fourth generations of Gougelmann’s, Henry’s three children, all have joined him in the business. Laura, the oldest, entered the business as a secretary in 1986. She quickly became the office manager and major medical billing consultant for all Mager &  Gougelman’s offices. Laura currently is on extended maternity leave after giving birth to Taylor and Dylan. Andrew, the middle child, joined the business on a part-time basis in 1981. He graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh with a major in Anthropology and an art minor. In 1989, he began working full-time with the company. Andrew joined the American Anthropology Association and the American Society of Ocularist in 1989. He received his diplomat and Board Certification from the American Society of Ocularist followed by obtaining his certification from the National Board of Ocularist. Andrew currently works in the NYC, Hempstead and CT offices. Andrew’s college education has bestowed a talent that benefits the fortunate patients. David, Henry’s youngest son, joined the business part-time in 1982. Attending Champlagn College in Vermont with an accounting and computer programming majors, David joined Mager & Gougelman as a full-time employee. In 1986 David traveled and worked in the New York City, Long Island and Boston Offices. Also, continuing the satellite clinics in Upstate New York, Connecticut, Florida and St. Thomas. After joining the American Anoplastology Association and American Society of Ocularist in 1987, David received his diplomat and Board Certification from the American Society of Ocularists followed by obtaining his Certification from the National Examining Board of Ocularist. David was on the ASO Education Committee for over 10yrs in positions of education Chairperson, education Co-Chairperson and Moderator.
As population developed into the suburbs of New York City, David and Andy expanded offices in Connecticut, Long Island and the most recent office is Fairfield, New Jersey which opened in 2013.

And today the Family tradition lives on...