A Tribute to Our Namesake: Dr. Herbert A. Wertheim

We gratefully thank our namesake, a visionary and generous inventor, investor, entrepreneur, engineer, optometrist, optimist and philanthropist. Dr. Herbert Wertheim inspires us daily with his commitment to the betterment of humanity.


Dr. Herbert A. Wertheim

“We all have only two things in common: Our time and our humanity. What we do with these two things defines who we are.”

Wertheim visits the institute's cryogenic electron microscope. Play Video

Personal Journey

Dr. Herbert Wertheim’s legacy of giving has been transformative for institutions of higher education, but few people know of the extraordinary journey that led him to this path. Rising above a childhood laden with difficulties, through shear determination and will, he achieved uncommon success as an inventor, ophthalmic physician, investor and philanthropist.

As a small child, Wertheim lived with his family in a tiny apartment, helping out at his father’s Hollywood, Florida bakery. All the while, he says he struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and endured indignities of physical abuse. He dropped out of school in the ninth grade and joined the U.S. Navy where extraordinarily high aptitude scores led to his placement in Aviation Electronics School – setting him on a path to success that has guided him for decades.

With a GED in hand that he earned during his service, Wertheim was discharged in 1960 and enrolled in Brevard Community College near Cape Canaveral as a pre-medical and engineering student. He worked the night shift for General Dynamics and NASA on projects including vision and neurological instrumentation systems that piqued his interest in vision and led to him enrolling at the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis, Tennessee. To help pay for his studies, he worked as a computer programmer and eventually became director and department head of the University of Tennessee Medical Computer Center. He led a team of more than 50 researchers on a project that became the basis for the Veterans Administration’s hospital information and record-keeping systems on IBM 360 computers.

Wertheim went on to open his own ophthalmology practice while serving as adjunct professor of physics and visiting researcher and lecturer at the University of Miami Medical School’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute. During this time, Wertheim started a company called Universal Labs to market the ophthalmic instruments he manufactured and sold it within a few months for profit.

He then started Brain Power, Inc., a global manufacturer of ophthalmic instruments and chemicals. Wertheim had a clinical practice for more than 12 years while also conducting research in visual neurology. Finding that UV light was the principal cause of cataracts as well as retinal and macular deterioration, he developed therapeutic tints, UV absorbers for eyeglasses, and more than 4,000 other products that have helped millions retain their eyesight. Wertheim holds more than 100 patents and trademarks and has traveled internationally as an expert lecturer. (Excerpt courtesy of the Horatio Alger Association.)

Philanthropic Impact

The Wertheim legacy of innovation and transformation continues through the Wertheim Family Foundation, which has been active for 50 years and is animated by a clear mission statement — “making life on Earth better.” Wertheim signed the Giving Pledge in 2015, a commitment by many of the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate most of their wealth to charitable causes and address society’s most pressing problems.

This commitment is typified by Wertheim’s $100 million pledge in 2022 to catalyze The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology’s growth into one of the world’s leading forces in biomedical research. The institute’s scientists address some of the most complex questions of human biology, by employing some of the most sophisticated research methods, in pursuit of the betterment of human health and wellness.

The institute’s researchers are leaders in their fields, working to address medicine’s most difficult challenges: How to prevent the progression of degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s; how to prevent the spread of deadly infectious viral diseases and effectively treat them; how to ensure that multi-drug resistant germs don’t outpace available antibiotics; how to enable the immune system to see and stop cancer; how to prevent inflammation from spiraling into an array of dangerous acute and chronic illnesses, and much more. The institute also prepares students to become world-class researchers through outstanding educational opportunities, from its graduate program to its internships.

The Wertheim legacy is a profound one. His 2015 gift to UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering spurred a public-private fundraising effort that has raised a total of nearly $400 million for the college, igniting growth that is bolstering the State of Florida’s impact in science and technology, and preparing new generations of students to play leadership roles in this vital field.

The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology advances human health through biomedical research, drug discovery and clinical studies, while providing outstanding educational opportunities to inspire and train the next generation of scientists.

Group wearing hats
Dr. Herbert Wertheim, Center, with David Nelson, M.D., president of UF Health; former University of Florida President Kent Fuchs, Ph.D., and UF Board of Trustees Chairman Mori Hosseini.

As one of the most prolific supporters of higher education in modern history, Wertheim’s generosity has elevated the trajectory of numerous other institutions across the nation, including:

Awards & Accolades

  • 2011 – Recognized with the Horatio Alger Award, given to exceptional leaders who have triumphed over adversity to achieve greatness.
  • 2013 – Elected to serve as director and research advisor to the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology.
  • 2018 – Inducted into the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame.
  • 2021 – Named to the Board of Directors of Scripps Research.
  • 2022 – Awarded the inaugural Herbert Wertheim Award from the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry (ASCO).
  • 2023 – Received UF’s Dr. Herbert Wertheim Humanitarian Prize celebrating his humanitarian contributions and efforts to foster innovation and positive change to help meet the world’s greatest challenges.