Ever wondered who wore the first glasses, or how they emerged and evolved over the years? It’s hard to imagine a time when glasses didn’t exist – especially considering just how essential they are today. The world would have been quite a blurry place for those suffering from any vision problems. But thanks to numerous brilliant innovators throughout the ages, corrective lenses have continued to evolve, allowing many us to see the world with crystal clear vision today.
Here’s a brief glance into the fascinating history of glasses.
The Early Innovators
Numerous sources point to the Romans as being the first to develop visual aids. For corrective lenses, Seneca, who was a tutor for the Roman emperor Nero (4BC – 65AD), spoke of his method to magnify reading material by looking through a large glass bowl filled with water. This glass bowl method was soon replaced by the first ‘reading stones.’ This consisted of a flat bottom convex glass that was placed on top of the reading material to magnify the words. The development of these reading stones was the first precursor of our modern lenses today.
It wasn’t until around the 1400s that eyeglasses were developed, widely produced and sold across Europe. Venice was the main source of glass production at the time, eventually spreading into Florence, which soon becomes a dominant leader in the industry. It wasn’t long before glass makers began experimenting with various magnification strengths and learned about the association between age and vision problems.
Flash forward to the 1600s when the first newspaper, The London Press, emerged. With the dawning of the newspaper and finer print, eyeglasses became increasingly in demand across Western Europe, and soon became a status symbol of wealth and intelligence.
It didn’t take long for Germany and the United States to become major players in the industry too, with the first optical shop emerging in Philadelphia in 1799 by John McAllister. During the 19th century, McAllister began developing his own lenses to help correct astigmatism, and soon after, the eyeglass industry took off exponentially across the States.
Other innovations such as binoculars and telescopes were also produced during this time, and eventually, style became an integral part of the eyeglass production during the 20th century. It wasn’t until the 1950s that eyeglasses became a real prominent fashionable accessory throughout Europe and the United States. Movie stars like Buddy Holly, Audrey Hepburn, and James Dean really brought progressive lenses into the public limelight, which can still be seen in many of the modern styles that we wear to this day.
So the next time you look through your corrective lenses, think back to how they are the result of centuries of innovation spanning all the way back to the Roman Empire. Pretty impressive!