Glasses are nothing new, we see people wearing glasses all the time and they have become one of those simple everyday items that we take for granted. We have so many options for frames, there are reading glasses, bifocal and varifocal lenses and you can even order eyeglasses online to be delivered straight to your door. However, it was not always as easy as that – centuries ago, specs and glasses were once a scarce commodity.
In the beginning
We do not know who first invented glasses and struggle to pin down exactly when humans discovered the ability to improve vision using glass, but it is believed that we can put this on to the Romans. We have not found evidence of earlier use, but we do know that the Romans used glasses to help them to read smaller texts through the creation of magnifying glasses.
The move to wearable glasses is thought to have happened hundreds of years later, in 13th century Italy. However, these glasses were still very different from what we are used to today, consisting of leather or wooden frames to be either held up in front of the face or perched precariously on the end of the nose. The lenses were made from blown glass and the thickness of the lenses was determined by an extremely basic vision test which was, as you can imagine, fairly unreliable.
The Renaissance is when glasses were first associated with intelligence and more high-brow culture because, during these early years, glasses were very expensive to obtain and therefore were only available to the very wealthy. They quickly became a status symbol and implied a high level of intellect.
The addition of the arms that make glasses truly wearable and hands-free is usually attributed to the 16th century due to its depiction in artwork at the time. They were still fairly far from the glasses we are used to as they were thick bands of metal or leather that extended around the ears.
A piece of commonly known general knowledge is that famous American polymath Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals after his eyesight began to deteriorate with age and he found that he was both near and far-sighted. Bifocals are when two different lenses are cut in half and put together in one frame meaning that people like Benjamin Franklin could use one pair of glasses rather than having to swap between two.
Eyeglasses became more accessible during the industrial revolution when they started to become mass-produced in factories across the world.
Now that the industrial revolution made glasses more commonplace this sparked the desire to make them more fashionable thus eyeglasses started to become available in different styles and shapes, using a variety of different materials.
Sunglasses appeared in the 20th century, purely as a fashion accessory when experts realized that they could be used to help people suffering from light sensitivity caused by medical conditions, and thus in 1929 they were being mass-produced for use as a form of sun protection.