If you were to leave your house to go anywhere in the world, you would see eyeglasses everywhere with them being as commonplace as any article of clothing. However, this hasn’t always been the case. While some tend to wear eyeglasses as a fashion statement, most wear them to help with their vision. Eyeglasses haven’t always been around to help those with vision troubles though. For the longest time, if you had any trouble with your vision, you were forced to live with your affliction. It wasn’t until the late 13th century that those dealing with poor vision were given a chance to correct their sight, but the history of eyeglasses is a convoluted one.
The identity of the first, true inventor of glasses is unknown, but it is documented that the Romans were the first to discover the ability to use glass to improve their ability to read small text. However, this ability was more in the line of small magnifying glasses with spheres. They knew how to enlarge things with spheres filled with water to read or look at magnified objects, but they were not able to create lenses for visual aid.
Later in the early 13th century in Venice, rock crystals molded in strongly convex shapes were used to aid those with reading and were even acknowledged in the Capitulary which governed the Guild of “Crystal Craftsmen.” Again, however, these were used more as magnifying glasses instead of corrective lenses. These craftsmen also created crystal discs that were used to close jars containing precious ointments. A scholar named Luigi Zecchin determined that by placing your eye near one of these to look through, you would be able to clearly see anything. By 1284, the “roidi da ogli” or “round glass for the eye” became mass produced and distributed. This moment can be credited with the invention of eyeglasses with the lenses being properly fit and mounted before one’s eyes, but not on their own just yet.
Early in the 1300s, craftsmen were granted permission to make glasses for reading. Once transparent and colorless glass paste was discovered, the production and distribution of eyeglasses became much more affordable, allowing for the trade of glasses to travel past the Venetian lagoon. To improve the vision of those suffering from farsightedness, two lenses were assembled in a frame of metal or leather with a handle to hold them in front of the eyes. There was still no efficient way to secure them on a face yet.
As books became increasingly popular, the demand for glasses rose as well. Along with this, the search for a better way to fasten them in front of one’s eyes without the need for a hand increased due to professionals such as copiers, engravers, goldsmiths, and many more operating in fields that required the use of both their hands. Sometime in the 1500s, a spring bridge was used to hold the frames in place by squeezing the nose to hold them steady. However as one might suspect, this was uncomfortable and irritating.
As developments in framing improved, the progress of finally producing glasses that set on the nose moved along. Many ideas were thrown around when it came to creating a way to situate eyeglasses in front of the eyes with the most comfort and function in mind.
British optician Edward Scarlett became the first to master the “temple glasses” between 1727 and 1730. He equipped these glasses with side-arms pressing on the temples ending in large loops that would wrap around the ears. Along with this development, Benjamin Franklin created the bifocal lenses in the 18th century. He merely took two distinct lenses with different optical powers and secured them together. The upper part was designed to correct myopia and the lower one for presbyopia. Eyeglasses, the lorgnette, and monocles became increasingly popular during this time with them becoming a fashion accessory and a symbol of the higher class.
As the production of eyeglasses traveled into the 19th century, they saw more improvements as the frames became more slender and lighter with metal temples curling behind the ear being much thinner. In 1873, John Wesley Hyatt discovered celluloid, and along with bakelite and galactite replaced traditional materials in the production of frames. This allowed manufacturers a plethora of options in creating shapes for frames that before this moment was unthinkable.
As the production of frames that fit on the face with little hassle increased, the improvement of lenses grew as well. In the early 1900s, eyeglasses became irreplaceable for correcting vision but also became crucial for protecting one’s eyes. As their function in everyday life became solidified, their place in the fashion world and as an accessory grew more and more as we arrived in today’s world with purchasing multiple eyeglasses for fashion purposes.
While the invention of eyeglasses wasn’t nearly as direct as many other inventions, it stands as a testament to human ingenuity and improvement. Over the course of centuries and multiple creators, the tools originally used to magnify small text eventually became the corrective glasses we know today. Today, we can go to our eye doctor for a glasses exam to find the perfect prescription just for us due to past advancements by numerous inventors. Come into First Eye Care today and grab yourself a pair!