Origins of ordinary things: Eyewear

By: Elizabeth Buhungiro
Published: November 22, 2017

Eyewear is a common sighting in the modern society. There are several types, serving different purposes majorly vision correction and eye protection during certain activities

For example, sunglasses which most people wear as an accessory in order to make a fashion statement are actually designed to protect the eyes against damage from ultraviolet light that comes from the sun

The Assyrian Nimrud lens is 3,000 years old and is believed to have been used as a magnifying glass or as part of a telescope. ( British Museum)

The invention of eyewear cannot be attributed to a particular person because there is no documentation of the same. What’s evident is that the use of eyewear is a process that evolved over several centuries

As early as 700BC, ancient Assyrians, Egyptians, Babylonians, Romans and Greeks were using different objects for magnification. For example, according to Glasses Crafter an eyewear company, ancient Assyrians used polished crystal while ancient Romans and Greeks filled glass spheres with water

There are also recordings of the use of corrective lens in form of an emerald from the first century. The Roman Emperor Nero is said to have held the emerald in front of one eye to watch gladiatorial games. This is according to Glasses Direct, an eyewear company

The first step towards making wearable eyeglasses, according to web-based Glasses History, occurred in Italy during the late 13th century. The frames of those first eyeglasses were made of metal or bone while the lenses were made from quartz since technology was not advanced enough to make glass lenses

After Italy, eyewear spread to European countries such as Germany, Spain, France and England. Up to this point, people were only making convex lenses which magnified objects. According to Zenni Optical, an eyewear company, the target market for such eyeglasses was people over 40

For instance, when an English company Worshipful Company of Spectacles was formed in 1629, their slogan was: “A blessing to the aged.” Concave glasses were later developed in order to correct farsightedness

Given that 1300-1700 was the Renaissance, a period during which classical art and intellect were held with high regard, glasses were seen as symbols of intelligence and prosperity

Up to this point, it was not possible for eyeglasses to stay in position. But in 1731, English optician Edward Scarlett made stiff side pieces that were attached to frames and pressed against the temples above the ears to hold glasses into position. This is according to Glasses Direct

The next significant development happened during the 1870s when American inventor Benjamin Franklin developed bifocal glasses so that he didn’t have switch glasses for different activities

By 19th century, eyewear was still made by hand and it was therefore available in limited quantities. According to All About Eyes, an eyecare company, mass production started during the industrial revolution. During this time, accurate prescriptions became possible

Since then, there have been several developments and improvements. Eyewear is not one-dimensional anymore. People can now be stylish while also dealing with their eye defects

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