The National Foundation for Eye Research was organized and incorporated in the District of Columbia on August 12, 1949 with the purpose of supporting research on blinding eye diseases. This was a time when funds for eye research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were meager and research funds from private foundations were nonexistent. The prime movers responsible for the establishment of the Foundation, who subsequently became the initial Trustees, were Mr. Al Hirshberg, a sports writer for Boston Globe; Mr. J.M. (Yank) Ulmer, a Cleveland attorney; and Dr. V. Everett Kinsey, a faculty member at the Howe Laboratory of the Harvard Medical School.

These determined and dedicated individuals established a medical review board, which consisted of the foremost eye researchers in the nation. This board, chaired by Dr. Kinsey, consisted of Dr. Alan C. Woods of Johns Hopkins Hospital; Dr. Francis Adler, Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. Edwin B. Dunphy, Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School; and Dr. Jonas Friedenwald of the Wilmer Institute, Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Hirshberg and Mr. Ulmer remained Trustees until 1972 with Dr. Kinsey as the permanent chairman. The same year Dr. Venkat Reddy was appointed Trustee, when the NFER national office was transferred from Ohio to the state of Michigan.

In 1978, Dr. Reddy became the President of the Foundation with a newly organized Board of Trustees, which included Dr. Jin H Kinoshita of the National Eye Institute, NIH as Secretary; Dr. Abraham Spector of Columbia University; and Thomas V. LoCicero Sr., J.D of St. Clair Shores, Michigan. During the intervening years of 1968-1984, other individuals serving as Trustees included Dr. John Harris of the University of Minnesota; Dr. John Patterson of the University of Connecticut; Dr. Akira Nakajima of Juntedo University, Tokyo; and Dr. Joseph Horwitz of UCLA. These individuals have devoted their lives to finding the causes of blinding eye diseases and cures for them. In 1984, the Foundation redefined its mission to support cataract research only and it became more active in generating funds and supporting research.