Glasses in History

A.D. 1000

Muslims conduct experiments with glass spheres. The results are eye-opening.


Vikings wear rock crystal lenses as a fashion statement, or just to bedazzle villagers long enough to burn their homes to the ground. One of those.


Friar Roger Bacon writes about using lenses for reading. The result: imprisonment. He sends the pope a pair anyway


One date for the invention of glasses in Italy. Two magnifying lenses were joined with a hinge and balanced on the nose. The unsteady had to wait for temples to be invented.


During a sermon in Pisa, Friar Giordano da Rivalto praises the invention of glasses and the “good vision” they purvey. The result: a standing ovation. Friar Roger Bacon rolls in his grave.


Friar Alessandro della Spina’s obituary proves sharing really is caring in commending his visual aid-making and distribution. Here’s looking at you, Friar (if only because his generosity let people see in the first place).


Glasses-making becomes standardized. Finally.


The earliest paint representations of visual aids (on clergymen, no less) appear in frescoes by Tommaso da Modina. Friar Roger Bacon rises from the grave in retribution.


Spectacles are pictured in a printed work for the first time, amazing readers who never before then had a page stare right back at them.

Late 1400s

In Western Europe, spectacles are purchased easily from street peddlers. Early hipsters/intelligentsia spar over horn-rimmed pairs. Pre-glasses cures for nearsightedness include sleeping on the right side, piercing the ears, and hanging a cow’s eyes from your neck. Wearing glasses considered a big improvement.

Early 1500s

Concave lenses are discovered to help those who can’t see far distances. Hunters rejoice. Animals flee.


The Nuremberg spectacles maker’s guild is founded in Germany, weil Sicht sehr gut is, ja?


Walter Bayley, physician to Queen Elizabeth I, writes the first English book on eyesight: A Brief Treatise of the Preservation of Eyesight. Not as popular as Shakespeare’s plays.


King Charles I of England grants the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers a Royal Charter. Had he gone further and purchased a few pairs for himself, he may have been able to see and thus avoid his beheading 20 years later.


Demand for glasses increases with the publication of the first newspaper, the London Gazette. Readers actually wanted to read the news!


Spectacle frames are created from silk, string, weights and rigid materials. Even the near-sighted could become athletes.


Edward Scarlett, Sr. advertises side arms for the first time in London. Glassers everywhere proclaim, “To arms, to arms!” (much to the chagrin of the local militia).


In France and England, glasses are an embarrassment. The wealthy use them in private or discreetly in public, as lorgnettes, sometimes jeweled. In Colonial America, the literate populace use glasses. Let social stratification begin!


Ben Franklin invents (probably) the first pair of split-lens bifocal glasses after suffering arm cramps from switching glasses while reading and glancing at scenery during his travels. As the saying goes, no pain, no gain (or sight).


John McAllister, Sr. establishes America’s first optical shop in Philadelphia. Glasses for sale in a store for the first time: imagine that! Importing spectacles until the War of 1812, McAllister makes his own frames afterward because the British military, man…


Robert Bate patents lorgnettes made with spring mechanisms. Wearers find an additional spring in their step, all the way to the opera house.


John Isaac Hawkins invents the trifocal in London because bifocals are so 1760 (take that, Ben!).


The monocle gains popularity among aristocrats. High fashion and glasses create the high-society snob.


The pince-nez style popular for men and women alike. However, a duck becomes the enduring icon for the pinchy pair: Scrooge McDuck.


Contact lenses are developed in the United States and Europe. The large, rigid lenses improve vision, but cannot be tolerated for long periods. Still, they allow people to hide their glasses.


The German glass-blower brothers Müller and Müller create the first scleral shell at the behest of a certain Dr. Sämisch for a patient who lost his right eyelids to cancer. The patient is not amused when optometrists refer to his case as “eye-opening” for the contact industry.


In Boston, the Klein School of Optics (later the New England College of Optometry) becomes the first formal refracting school. (Refracting on this advancement, it was probably for the best.)


Sunglasses gain fans after Hollywood stars and starlets are seen sporting them. Rumor has it actors wear them under the harsh lights on sets. They make anyone look cool!


Contact lenses made from plastic replace those made of glass, replacing glasses. Because why have visual aids in front of your eyes when they can be inside them?


After the war, aviator sunglasses are associated with all things masculine and victorious.


Blue-eyed actor Walter Hampden in the film Northwest Mounted Police becomes a brown-eyed Indian, a great disguise.


Over 6 million Americans now wear contacts; 65% female. “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses,” Dorothy Parker.


The FDA declares ophthalmic solutions be sterile and soft lenses considered a drug (thus demanding their own regulation). Not that eye health was important before then or anything.


Contacts can be worn overnight. Millions of hot-to-trot singles rejoice.


Ophthalmologist and not movie director Michael Bay invents disposable contact lenses in Denmark, yielding transformations in contact-wearers that would impress even Optimus Prime.


Contact lens heyday. People could now change their eye color along with their hair!


Google Glass launched. Wearers take photos and videos, make phone calls, listen to music, use apps, and more. Being a cyborg has never been so cool.


Virtual Reality headsets widely used, from folding cardboard sets to pricey boxes hung on ears: Is VR better than R?


Apple’s VR sets arriving.