History of Eyeglasses

History of Eyeglasses
Eyeglasses date back to 1000 A.D. and have undergone several changes before reaching their present form. To know more about their invention, and their evolution over the years, read this article...
When we talk about inventions that have brought about a drastic change in human lives, we often talk about the wheel, electric bulb, computers, etc. Rarely do we think about eyeglasses. However, it has a major significance for those of us who resort to these unsung wonder invention for bringing about more 'clarity' in our lives. For us, the world would not have been the same if we did not have those pair of spectacles. We would have bumped into things while moving around quite often.

The Journey of Eyeglasses

The jury is still out about who invented spectacles, and when. The technology of magnification of images started in the period between 1000 and 1250 A.D. Those who had invented the technology observed that a convex shaped glass could magnify the image of a small object. Thus magnifiers or reading stones came into existence which are considered as the precursor to eyeglasses.

The first pair of spectacles with its frame, and sidebars was developed around the year 1286 in Pisa, Italy. It had two crystal stones or glasses that were framed, and could be held up in front of the eyes with a handle. It was a great help for the elderly whose vision got blurred due to aging. The drawback of this design was that it used to slip down from the nose. So the person wearing it had to hold it with one hand. Thus, its use was limited as a reading aid. Soon, Venice, Italy became the main center for production of glasses. By the end of the 14th century, glasses made in Venice were exported to various counties of Europe.

In the middle of 15th century, sales, production and innovation of high quality glasses were taking place in Florence, Italy. When these glass makers came to know that vision decreases with increase in age, they started a gradation system for eyeglasses. In other words, glasses of various strengths were manufactured. During this time, they became very popular throughout Europe. When the first newspaper, The London Press came up in the year 1665, the demand for eyeglasses rose further. Gradually, it became a symbol of wealth, status, and intelligence. Its popularity soared not just in Europe, but also in other parts of the world like China.

In the 17th century, Germany was at the center of this revolution as it produced some of the finest looking frames for eyeglasses, although Italy continued to produce the best quality lenses. Around this time, people of the United States started using eyeglasses. To meet their demand, John McAllister, Sr. started the first optical shop in Philadelphia in the year 1799. Initially, he used to import the glasses from Europe, but later he and his son started manufacturing it themselves. By 1830s, the number of eyeglass retailers in the United States rose to more than 300. These companies also produced lenses for other products like telescopes, microscopes and binoculars. At the start of the 20th century, manufacturers realized the importance of stylish frames, and started producing them. During the 1950s, it became a fashion accessory for people of Europe, and the United States.

The Invention of Reading Glasses

Benjamin Franklin is credited with developing the first reading glasses, or bifocal lenses, way back in the 1780s. Bifocal lenses are those which consist of a concave lens on top for long distance viewing, and a convex lens at the bottom for reading. Franklin got fed up having to change glasses frequently (one for far distance and the other near distance), and thus suggested to his optician to use different lenses into the same frame. Thus the first bifocal lenses, often referred to as Benjamin Franklin bifocals or Benjamin Franklin glasses, came into being. Later, in 1909, Dr. John Borsch, Jr. came up with the idea of a fused bifocal lenses that was much thinner than the earlier design and looked more attractive. These concept of these glasses have undergone further refinement, and are still used in production today.

There is no doubt about the fact that eyeglasses have opened up a new world for many people suffering from various kind of visual defects, helping them to see objects around them, and enjoy their lives. Moreover, today these are available in various styles, colors, frames are available which not only helps in vision correction of an individual, but also enhances one's personality.
Benjamin Franklin
Optical microscope
Telescope on white background
Magnifying glass in hand