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A Brief History of Eyeglasses

The first eyeglasses are believed to have been invented between 1268 and 1289. Although there are some who would claim otherwise, glasses are widely accepted as originating in Italy. The inventor, however, is not known.

These first spectacles were made of natural crystal, and were handheld due to their weight. Crystal lenses could not be made uniform, which would sometimes result in blurring. Early lenses were convex and could correct both hyperopia, or farsightedness, and presbyopia, diminished near focusing due to aging. In 1604, Johannes Kepler accurately explained correction with convex and concave lenses.

Proceeding lenses were made of glass and were lighter in weight, but at that time, glass lenses were not highly specialized and would bend light at varying angles, resulting in the effect known as “chromatic aberration.” This would be seen by wearers as a blurry rainbow around object edges. In 1730, Chester More Hall solved this problem by using two glass lenses together. This achromatic lens was a landmark advancement in eyeglass technology, significantly increasing the demand for corrective spectacles.

In time, glass lenses were refined to enhance their visual quality and provided excellent optics. They were, however, heavy and could easily break, a dangerous occurrence at close proximity to one’s eye – the main reason why they are not widely used in our time.

In addition to lens advancements, the construction of frames also made headway. Earliest frames were those such as rivet spectacles, frames with two magnifying glasses held together by handles, and pince-nez, which could be held in place by hand or by pressure on the nose. A French manufacturer produced a spring and hinge bridge in 1830, which allowed the spectacles to be folded.

Colored lenses had been available earlier in eyewear manufacturing, however, it wasn’t until 1913 when Sir William Crookes invented a lens that was able to absorb ultralight and infrared light. Thus, sunglasses began being more widely produced. Around 1930, sunglasses became popular in America with the invention of the Aviators by Bausch & Lomb, now Ray-Ban. These sunglasses specifically helped protect our military pilots’ eyes while flying. Aviators are a style of sunglasses still popular today.

Up until around the 1930s, corrective eyeglasses were considered to be medical devices, and it was a social humiliation to be seen wearing them. However, lightweight plastic lenses (CR-39) were introduced in 1947 in California and because of its lighter weight, superb optics and low cost, it remains a common lens material today. 1940s’ advancements in plastic frames opened the door for a wide spectrum of frame colors. By the 1970s, eyewear began making a fashion statement, and popular demand increased the variety of styles being manufactured. Eyewear eventually became an accessory to one’s wardrobe and was constantly being updated to keep in step with the latest fashion trend, largely dictated by celebrities and fashion icons, much like today.

Lenses began seeing a significant increase in quality around the 1980s. Technological advances allowed for the production of higher quality plastic lenses, which were safer and lighter, thus more comfortable, as well. Traditional plastic lenses were surpassed by poly-carbonate lenses in safety. These thermoplastic lenses are often used in safety, sports and children’s eyewear, due to their impact-resistant quality. Most recently, manufacturers have developed a thinner, lighter lens, known as high-index plastic lenses, which are thinner than the original CR-39 plastic lenses. Poly-carbonate lenses are still recommended for their durability.

We can only imagine what the future of eyewear holds, but its beauty, as always, is in the eye of the beholder…

Our opticians at Eyes For Life, hand-pick the frames we have on display to offer our clients a wide selection of styles. Our experienced, knowledgeable and friendly staff would be more than happy to help you select eyewear that suits your personal style. Contact us for more information or stop by our Spokane, WA location today!

The content on this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.