Today, eyeglasses are easily accessible and affordable, but a hundred years ago, humans struggled with seeing, and it hindered progress. The truth is that eyewear took many years to evolve into what it is today.
Since the invention of glasses, they’ve progressed from a rare possession only found among the rich to a vision correction accessory that’s fashionable and readily available for everyone. Today, we’ll discuss the common question, “When were glasses invented.”
When Were Eyeglasses Invented?
Believe it or not, this is a topic of hot debate. Though some outlets claim Roger Bacon made the first pair of glasses in 1268, the truth is that the inventor of wearable eyeglasses is not known. What is known is that the Romans were the first to discover the ability to create glass objects to enhance their vision and enable them to read small text. However, they did this using small magnifying spheres made from glass, not eyewear.
The first eyeglasses to appear on a person’s face were depicted in a painting of Italy’s Hugh of Provence completed by Tommaso da Modena in 1352. These primitive lenses were made from blown glass and usually set in leather or wooden frames, but eyeglass frames made from animal horns were also available. These glasses styles did not sit on the face. Instead, they were either perched on the nose with no ears or held in front of the face.
The first people to commonly be known to wear spectacles were monks, but through the Renaissance times, technology and popularity improved, giving eyeglasses a much-needed boost. Artwork is still the best testament to prove that eyeglasses existed, of which another famous painting was completed in 1480 by Domenico Ghirlandaio, who painted St. Jerome sitting at a desk with eyeglasses dangling. Not long after this painting, St. Jerome was appointed as the patron saint of the spectacle makers guild.
When eyeglasses were invented, glass blowers would create lenses of different thicknesses based on different vision tests. As glasses grew in popularity, the Italian invention spread across Europe among wealthy people.
“Martin’s Margins” Eyeglasses Invented
Though eyeglass technology halted for several centuries, it became “hands-free” in the 1700s. Though we don’t know who’s responsible for the invention of glasses, Benjamin Martin does deserve some homage for his innovations.
Martin was the most famous of all 18th-century glass makers. He named his glasses Martin’s Margins and this style still remains a highly prized vintage frame sought by collectors.
One historical figure who took great interest in Martin’s improved eyeglass design was politician, inventor, and scholar Benjamin Franklin, as he needed glasses to read and write. In fact, Franklin is the one who created the first bifocal design, which allowed the wearer to see things up close and far away. Though opticians later learned to create the bifocal effect in a single lens, Franklin did so by cutting and mending two lenses to fit in the same frame.
Well into the 19th century, eyeglasses remained a luxury for the rich. That is until the industrial revolution helped large-scale manufacturing become possible. Though glasses were still pricey in this time period, more middle-class individuals were able to afford them.
Contemporary Eyeglass Improvements
Benjamin Franklin was just one of many who helped with the invention of glasses. It wasn’t until the late 19th into the early 20th century that eyeglass makers began looking into styling and functional improvements.
This trend helped change eyeglasses from a “one size fits all” style and allowed them to come in a variety of patterns, colors, and shapes. During this time, glasses also became more widely available for children, who were commonly left out of the eyeglass equation unless they were part of wealthy families.
It’s also worth noting that while American and European markets are widely recognized for improving modern eyeglasses, the first tinted eyeglass lens was invented during the 12th century in China. Interestingly enough, these lenses were not created to shield your eyes from the sun; they were made to keep others from seeing the eye expressions of judges during court cases. It took until the 20th century for this improvement to take hold.
From the first invention of glasses up until the 1980s, lenses were only made from blown glass. This all changed in the ‘80s when the plastic lens was introduced. Not only were they more affordable, but they were safer as broken lenses were once a real danger.
When Were Sunglasses Invented?
Now that we’ve answered your question as to ‘when were prescription glasses invented,’ let’s take a look at another frequently asked question: ‘when were sunglasses invented?’
The very first sunglasses were invented by the Inuit people during prehistoric times, but they did not feature lenses; they were simply walrus ivory with small slits cut in them. This design worked well to shield your eyes and prevent snow blindness, but it wasn’t the most fashionable type of vintage sunglasses.
As we briefly mentioned, the Chinese made slight improvements to this model during the 12th century, but they actually used smoked quartz for their lenses. Again, these glasses were invented to shield the eyes of the judge during court cases rather than for shielding sunlight or style purposes.
By the mid-1700s, an optician in London started experimenting with green lenses that could be used to help various vision issues. And did you know that green is the best color for protecting your eyes from the sun? During this time, emerald-colored shades were all the rage, with people like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne sporting them.
Though sunglasses had been around for a while, it took until the 20th century for modern sunglasses to be invented. Sam Foster began selling the world’s first mass-produced sunglasses in 1929, which didn’t take long to become a fashion staple on Atlantic City’s Boardwalk.
Several years later, Bausch & Lomb entered the market after having sunglasses created for American military pilots. General Douglas MacArthur helped launch the trend of these glasses, which we now call Aviators.
In the years since sunglass styles were first invented, they have improved and expanded greatly. One of the best improvements was the invention of the polarized lens in the 1930s. This design helped further reduce glares and the risk of damage to your eye caused by the sun’s UV rays.