When Were Eyeglasses Invented

Glasses have been around for way longer than we would think, but who really invented them? While the College of Optometrist have a great article about it, here’s a little write up about the history of eyeglasses.

Eyeglasses were believed to be invented between 1268 and 1289 in Italy. The inventor is still unknown but the earliest eyeglasses were worn by monks and scholars. They were held in front of the eyes or balanced on the nose. With the invention of the printing press in 1452 and the growing rate of literacy it encouraged new designs and the eventual mass production of affordable eyeglasses.

In the 1700s, eyeglasses were being made by hand. The century’s most important contributions to eyeglasses were the invention of temple pieces that rest over the ear (first advertised in 1728) and the bifocal, invented by Benjamin Franklin, in 1784.

Common styles in the 1700s included:

  • The Martin’s Margins. Developed by Benjamin Martin these eyeglasses were characterized by lens inserts commonly carved from cattle horn.
  • Wig spectacles. These were eyeglasses with long temple pieces that extended far beyond the ears.
  • Bifocals. Invented by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) in 1784.
  • Scissor spectacles. These eyeglasses were commonly used by men who did not wish to wear their eyeglasses. U.S. President George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte both used scissor spectacles.

Larger scale manufacturing started to become possible by the end of this century and eyeglasses came in fewer styles. A large percentage of people bought cheap ready-made glasses sold by traveling peddlers, jewelers and at general stores.

In the 1800s eyeglasses were considered evidence of old age and infirmity. As a result, people preferred to wear spectacles only when they were needed.

Lorgnettes were developed around 1780 from scissor spectacles. Early lorgnette designs consisted of a pair of eyeglasses with a single, long handle. In 1830, a French manufacturer designed a hinged bridge with a spring, which allowed the eyeglasses to be folded.

The 1900s saw eyeglasses become an industry of their own, complete with manufacturing and distribution networks. Styles quickly changed in this century as Hollywood and celebrities began to influence fashion and new materials became available, especially plastics.

As the 19th Century came to a close, more and more people wore their eyeglasses everyday. A popular style of inexpensive, everyday spectacles was the pince-nez. French for “pinch nose,” the pince-nez was first developed in France circa 1840 and began to be imported to America after the 1850s. The popularity of pince-nez was helped by political figures such as U.S. Presidents Teddy Roosevelt and Calvin Coolidge who wore them regularly.
1920 to 1950

Although pince-nez were still widely popular in the 1920s, they began to be seen as stuffy and old-fashioned. A Hollywood actor named Harold Lloyd was known for wearing tortoiseshell spectacles with large, round lenses. His photos and Hollywood movies started a fashion craze for temple spectacles.

In the 1930s sunglasses became popular for the first time. Although colored lenses were available early in spectacle manufacturing, it was not until 1913 that Sir William Crookes of England created a lens capable of absorbing both ultraviolet and infrared light. Further advances in sunglass design were accomplished in order to meet the needs of military pilots in World War II (1939 – 1945). As a result, manufacturers began to market sunglasses that were both practical and fashionable.

By the 1940s, advances in the manufacture of plastics made a large variety of spectacles available in every color of the rainbow. Women wore frames characterized by an upsweep on the top rim, a style that was very popular until the end of the 1950s, while men tended to sport gold wire frames.

By the latter half of the 20th century, spectacles were considered part of a person’s wardrobe. Similar to clothes, eyeglasses needed to be continually updated or a person could be perceived as old-fashioned. More and more celebrities were influencing spectacle fashion, for example, in the 1970s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis helped to popularize oversized lenses.

Starting in the 1980s technical innovations produced higher quality, plastic lenses. These were lighter and safer to wear.

At Schmidt’s Optical and Hearing™ in Stuart Florida we have a wide array of modern styles in both eyeglasses and Sunglasses. Come in today and talk to our educated opticians about what styles are best for you.

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