When were eyeglasses invented?

Kepler Browline Glasses in Tortoise on a stack of books

When were spectacles invented? When were reading glasses invented? There are a number of great questions about the first eyeglasses and how they came to be. Lots of people always wonder about the first glasses and what year were glasses invented? In today’s day and age, eyeglasses are a huge part of our everyday life, so it might be difficult to imagine a time before glasses. They’ve become a popular everyday commodity and a staple in our society, but with that aside, most people don’t really know about the history of glasses. Glasses have a very interesting past that should be explored whether you’re a glasses wearer or not! There are a lot of questions that can be answered, for example, “who invented eyeglasses” and “what did people do before glasses?” Here is the abbreviated history of eyeglasses, which starts with very creative people.

Back when it all started

Before the invention of glasses, most people with poor vision just went through life without any aid. At a certain point, people decided to come up with a solution after being sick of having bad vision. They decided to improvise and experiment with different fixes. In fact, the Romans in Italy were the first people who started experimenting with different types of spectacles to try to help their failing vision around the 13th century. They discovered that they could use glass to enlarge small words they were struggling to see. These were referred to as “reading stones.”

They then set the glass into wooden or leather “frames” to perch on their nose between their eyes to make it easier to read. These can be seen as the first reading glasses (which really operated like magnifying glasses). The glasses invented back then were created in several different thicknesses, just like today’s eyewear that caters to people’s different vision needs. At this time, glasses were only available to the wealthy, and they were a sign of intelligence and that one was doing well in society to be able to afford the spectacles. We can credit all of this knowledge to the Renaissance art of this time. We’re able to reference the paintings of the era to see the first optical glasses of this time and see the history of glasses. At this time, they also started as monocle-type style and then became two lenses connected by a piece of metal over the nose called “pince-nez” glasses. There were two popular styles: monocle and also a two lensed option where it pinched over the nose to stay on the face.

Developments from the 1700s to the 1900s

The next advancement in the eyeglasses history was transforming these designs to be hands-free. Glasses were revolutionized by arms that extended over the ears so they’d rest on the face without the help of one’s hands. After this new advancement, the progression of glasses grew pretty quickly. Benjamin Franklin is a notable figure in glasses history because he is credited with the creation of the bifocal lenses in 1784. The bifocal lens allowed a person who had both nearsighted and farsighted to use one pair of glasses instead of having to switch lenses, making a much more pleasant experience for the glasses wearer. This was a big step forward in glasses history because it changed the way that people with very poor vision wore and used eyeglasses.

In the early 1800s, another advancement that helped the eyeglass reach a larger audience was the shift from glasses being handmade to mass-produced. This made them more widely available to a larger group of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. This time period also provided those with astigmatism (a common vision condition that causes blurred vision) a solution for their vision problems. A special type of lenses in a cylindrical shape were created to aid their sight. This invention was created by George Airy who was an English Astronomer. Trifocals were also created in 1827 and monocles made a come back. On top of that, the first contacts were invented in 1887 by a Swiss physician. Even more, fused bi-focals were then created in 1908 which created a more together lens of the near and far sighted lenses. This allowed the lenses to be magnifying up close and to work well at a distance too.

The role of celebrities

Celebrities played a large role in glasses history and which styles gained the best popularity. For example, sunglasses started to become popular in the 1930s because famous stars started wearing them and were seen in them. It was also because new technology that filtered and polarized the sunlight had just been created a few years earlier. The era also influenced the popularity of styles that were worn. For instance, the aviator style of sunglasses that is incredibly popular nowadays was first created to help serve the needs of World War II pilots. Eyeglasses as fashion accessories became increasingly popular during this time period as well, which further developed their popularity.

Felix Gray glasses on a table with phone

The 1950s to today

Progressive lenses were created in 1959 which are multifocal lenses. People wear them so that they don’t have to switch their glasses every time they need to see close and then far away. Progressives allow the wearer to not have to wear different glasses to treat both nearsightedness and farsightedness if they suffer from both, which can often happen as one ages. This is similar to the original bifocal lenses, but progressives smoothly transition prescriptions. This was a top advancement in the eyeglasses world.

Lenses were also transformed from glass to being made of mostly plastic. This was a big deal because lenses used to be easily breakable and would shatter frequently. The change to plastic made these problems a thing of the past. The frames of glasses were also able to be made of plastic, which allowed them to be easily moldable, and they no longer had to be made of metal, wood, or glass, which were tougher. From there, glasses have continued to adapt and be modernized for today’s world. Now, many customers order their glasses online or at a retail location instead of only at their doctor’s office. The fact that people can order prescription eyeglasses and contacts at an affordable price point in the comfort of their own home has transformed the industry. Additionally, the purpose of glasses has transformed and is no longer just for those who are nearsighted and farsighted.

One of the latest developments in the glasses world is Blue Light glasses. These glasses, like the ones at Felix Gray, filter out impactful Blue Light from the screens that surround us on a daily basis, and they also help to reduce the effects of Digital Eye Strain. They are very useful for students and professionals who spend a lot of their days looking at screens. When you view your screen all day, every day, it can take a toll on your eyes. Blue blocking glasses are available both with and without a prescription, so if you wear contact lenses, prescription glasses, or nothing at all you can still benefit from Blue Light glasses.

Woman holding iPad wearing metal glasses next to a man wearing metal glasses

Glasses today have become extremely modernized with uses far beyond just vision improvement. People like to wear glasses for activities like gaming and even to help with health conditions such as migraines or headaches. They are even used to care for and help treat light sensitivity issues. Gamers find gaming glasses helpful because of their proximity to a screen for long periods of time. They can suffer from several symptoms because of this extended screen time including eye fatigue, headaches, and blurry vision. Gaming glasses can help to reduce these symptoms and make the experience much more enjoyable for everyone. Migraine glasses can have similar effects for migraine and headache sufferers. Oftentimes, light is a big trigger for migraines, so these specs help to reduce the harsh effects of light.  Many people suffer from light sensitivity problems due to a variety of medical conditions, and there are glasses that can help them curb their symptoms. These glasses help to make the light less painful and make the day easier to get through.

The glasses background is rich and long, with numerous interesting developments throughout places and history. From the first eyeglasses invented to the most modern pair created today, eyeglasses have certainly come a very long way. According to the Vision Council, just over three out of every four adults wear glasses or contact lenses (or some type of vision corrector). That’s a whopping 188.7 million Americans! Whether or not you currently wear glasses, chances are you’ll wear glasses at some point in your life (even if it’s non-prescription Blue Light glasses). Eyeglasses are used for both fashion and function in today’s world and have been for years. Thankfully, the evolution of eyewear has taken us to an incredible point with fun, fashion-forward options to satisfy all styles and personal preferences. This history of eyeglasses is just a summary of the world of eyeglasses from the invention of eyeglasses to what is popular today. Now hopefully you have a great answer when people ask you, ”when were eyeglasses invented”?