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History of Sunglasses

The precursors to sunglasses are thought to have been originally worn by Chinese judges in the 1300’s so the court they presided over could not see their expressions. The lenses were made of a smoke colored quartz and they offered no vision protection, nor were they even meant to be worn outside as they could not reduce reflected glare from the sun. Lenses that also protected the eyes were developed in Italy, these were still used within the court room and were still not strictly designed for outside use. For many centuries these were the only uses of sunglasses, it was not until the 1700’s that James Ayscough realized that changing the colours of lenses could help better protect the eyes from bright lights and glare; however they would not have protected the eyes from the more harmful effects of the sun.

It was not until the 1900’s the sunglasses really took off and people began wearing them to shield their eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. The American military was at the front of this technology for their servicemen and women. In 1929 Sam Foster found the perfect place to sell sunglasses, at the beaches in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Foster was the founder of the Foster Grant Company and began selling Foster Grant sunglasses on the Boardwalk, with increasing popularity thus began the States’ love affair with the sun and sunglasses.

In the early 1930’s Bausch & Lomb were hired by the Army Air Corps to create specialized sunglasses that would cut back on the glare that pilots experienced at high altitude. This led to the dark green tint that was able to absorb light and was created by physicists and opticians; what became called the G15 lens.

Around 1936 Ray Ban’s popularity was further increased when they added the Polaroid filter by Edwin H. Land to their lenses. Ray Ban created the anti glare aviator style frame and lens. Polarized lens technology was very new and had been created by the Polaroid Company. The frame design was created to shield the entire perimeter of the eyes, as a pilot would need, these were distributed throughout the Air Corp. By 1937 they were also made available to the public.

Foster Grant took sunglasses to another level in 1960 with an advertising campaign that made sunglasses chic and stylish to have and wear. Whether the lenses were prescription or not, sunglasses had now become a permanent fashion accessory, not just in the United States, but worldwide. The 1970’s saw Hollywood stars, musicians and fashion designers buy up the brand name sunglasses that were then available.

Sunglasses continued to grow in popularity, not just for fashion, but also because of what was becoming known about the effects of sunlight on the eyes and the importance of shielding them. The sunglass industry has expanded ten fold through the late 1900’s and into today. Sunglasses offer multiple levels of protection from the sun, covering both UVA and UVB to keep eyes healthy and cut down on the effects of glare. Just as eyeglasses are available in numerous designs, colors, sizes and shapes, so are sunglasses. The materials that sunglasses are made of are similar to those of glasses being created to be light and durable as well.

Non prescription sunglasses usually have plastic or metal frames and plastic lenses. The patterns and shapes available are numerous, as are the colours and tints of the lenses. Prescription sunglasses come in the same stylish designs as prescription glasses and are made to fit anyone’s lifestyle or needs. Sunglasses are as much a fashion necessity as stylish eye glasses are. The use of sunglasses has changed dramatically since the age of the Chinese judges that first wore them, however they are still very much used to hide expressions and emotions even now, giving an air of mystery and making the wearer appear more interesting.

Nicholas of Cusa is credited with discovering how to correct myopia (nearsightedness) with concave lenses. This meant that by the 1400’s Italy was making lenses in different strengths for myopia, hyperopia and presbyopia. By the 15th century there were peddlers selling eyeglasses through out Europe and had became a sign of wealth and intelligence. By the 1600’s glasses were being made with ribbons attached or strings so they could go over the ears. The notion of wearing glasses for extended periods led the to the invention of weights being added by the Chinese, instead of a loop being used. Which then led to an optician in London named Edward Scarlett to make rigid temples to go over the ears in 1730. Finally, by 1752 James Ayscough created a doubled hinged ear piece and added green and blue tint to the lenses to reduce glare.

By the late 1700’s eyeglasses were also being worn in the United States and Benjamin Franklin created bifocal lenses in 1784, using to separate lens segments held in the rimmed frame, these correcting for both myopia and presbyopia. With this and other inventions, the first optical store was opened in 1799 by John McAllister, Scotsman, in Philadelphia in the United States. During this time McAllister would import eyeglasses, but by 1815 he was making his own lenses.

Glasses being worn as fashion pieces was becoming very popular by the 1800’s and the first monocle, the eye ring, was made in England. These were popular with the upper classes through out the entirity of the 1800’s. Finally during this time a British astronomer, George Airy, created the first lens that was used to correct astigmatism in 1825. John McAllister, was then the first to distribute these lenses in the United States three years later, importing cylindrical lenses to make glasses to correct astigmatism. These inventions led to a boom in optical outlets, with over 300 stores opening in the United States between the 1820s and 1830’s.

At the beginning of the 1900’s, Dr. John Borsch Jr. created the first fused bifocal lenses, that were lighter and more attractive than the current two lens bifocals that were available. The 1900’s also saw improvements in the materials that glasses frames were made of. Plastics and metals were getting lighter and more stylish than before. Eyeglasses were becoming a popular fashion accessory and not just a functional item to be worn. Both Europe and the United States saw these changes occur during this time with eyeglasses and designers began improving not just the look, but also the comfort of eyeglasses.


Through the 1900’s materials used were no longer just base metals, but titanium and high grade steel, that were lighter and more durable. The material to makes lenses improved also, creating lenses that are very thin, even with strong prescriptions, as well as scratch and glare resistant too. The advancements seen have continued and new technology is always being applied to create better frames and lenses.

Spectacles are currently made in thousands upon thousands of styles and designs. From the trendy or sophisticated look to the sporty or casual design. Frames are available in a variety of patterns, colors and sizes, all depending on the wearers desires. Although, surgery and contact lenses are available, glasses still remain one of the most popular forms of vision correction, because they are not just for function, but can accessorise your personality.

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