A Brief History of Glasses

With the advent of augmented reality eyewear, at least a portion of our future is coming down to a very old invention: eyeglasses. It might surprise you to learn that glasses and sunglasses have been around in some form or another since ancient times. Learn more about the history of glasses and what the future may hold.

Early Eyewear

The earliest accounts of eyewear involve people using natural minerals as lenses. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs mark the first record of glass lenses being used for magnification. The Roman Emperor, Nero, used an emerald as a corrective lens to watch gladiatorial games. Flat, smoky quartz was used in 12th century China for sunglasses. The Inuit used goggles made of flattened walrus ivory with narrow slits as protection from the sun.

While traveling through Italy around 1286, a Dominican friar, Giordano de Pisa, witnessed an invention so marvelous that he later delivered a sermon praising the creation – eyeglasses. Unfortunately, the inventor of this incredible creation did not divulge how to recreate his invention. However, thanks to Friar Alessandro Della Spina, the story does not stop there. The friar, a skilled colleague of Giordano, was able to replicate the invention to produce corrective eyewear, and he disclosed the process freely to all who wanted to know.

Frame Evolution

Spectacles continued evolving, both in form and use. Instead of being solely held up to the eyes, new framing that pinched the nose allowed glasses to stay on the face. This pince-nez style was uncomfortable, and many variations failed before the over-ear style came to prominence.

Lens Evolution

Lenses also evolved alongside frames and gained new uses. One of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin had both presbyopia and myopia, which led to his invention of bifocals. In 1880, African-American inventor P. Johnson patented “eye protectors” for firemen and welders.

Glasses as Fashion

Since their inception, glasses have moved beyond being merely for corrective and protective purposes and into the realm of high fashion. Sunglasses from luxury designers such as Dolce & Gabbana and Louis Vuitton retail between $500 – $1,000 per pair. Sunglasses brands Ray-Ban and Oakley have become synonymous with high quality and style.

Eyewear and Augmented Reality

Technological advances are also shaping the eyewear industry with the advent of 3D cinema and augmented reality. 3D glasses have changed and are no longer blue and red lenses in flimsy white paper frames. The resurgence of 3D films has seen improved 3D glasses with dark, polarized lenses in hard frames. These films and eyewear are finding their way into the home with 3D compatible TVs.

Google revealed its augmented reality glasses prototype in early 2012. The project, dubbed Project Glass, would allow the user to access the internet and information they would typically store on a smartphone via voice commands. A video from Google demonstrated a young man using the glasses to take pictures, map out directions, check his schedule, text, and make video calls, all while the glasses rested on his face.

Nobody knows what the future holds for eyewear, whether it’s corrective or elective, but for now, glasses and sunglasses offer both style and functionality for everyone.