The history of glasses dates way back to ancient times (1000 A.D.) when the first technology of magnification was invented. The earliest known vision aid was called a “reading stone” and it was a useful tool intended for reading purposes. It was used to manually enlarge images or small fonts by looking through a glass sphere.

Keep on reading to find out more interesting facts about the eyewear history, with a proper timeline:

Sunglasses prototypes are historically mentioned for the first time in a Chinese document from the 12th century. The antique document describes quartz plates worn by judges, in order for them to look impartial.

The wearable eyeglasses were initially developed in Italy around 1284. The frames of the first introduced models were quite heavy. They were usually made of copper, wood, leather or bone, with glass lenses mounted on them. Artwork from that Renaissance period is a testament that such eyewear existed, as some paintings showed scholars wearing perch-style glasses or holding handheld frames.

In the 1400s, Florence, Italy has gained fame around Europe as a leader in innovation, production, and sales of eyewear. The eyeglasses were of the highest quality for that period and came with a five-year prescription (with the concept that users must change glasses every five years). Glasses were available in different styles, made of a variety of materials, and were quite affordable to all social groups.

The first spectacles had quartz lenses, they were designed to be manually held in place. Holding glasses by hand or leaving them on the nose without temples or earpieces for support might seem really uncomfortable nowadays, but it was a daily routine in the spectacle era (16th century). 

Around the late 1700s, Spanish eyewear manufacturers found a genuine solution to the problem of glasses slipping down the nose. They used to fix ribbons to the lenses, looping them around the ears to ensure stability. Those ribbons were an extremely helpful invention that inspired the modern-day temple arms.

Benjamin Franklin developed the bifocal lens in 1784. The scientist had both myopia and presbyopia, so he found a solution to his own health discomfort. The invention of the bifocal lenses was his way out of having to switch between glasses.

The monocle was the next big invention in the eyewear history. It introduced to the public at the end of the 18th century and it became vastly popular amongst English, Russian, and German intellectuals. 

In the 19th century, eyeglasses were still handmade and hardly available to anyone in need. Fortunately, the Industrial Revolution changed that with the massive manufacture of frames, lenses, and components. It finally allowed people from all social statuses to have access to proper eyesight.

George Airy, a famous British astronomer introduced the first astigmatism correction lenses in 1825.

In the 1920s, Edwin Land (inventor of instant photography method) created the first anti-glare glasses with polarization.

Mass production of affordable sunglasses in the USA began in 1929 when Sam Foster Grant started selling eyewear items on the Atlantic City beaches.

The rounded glasses with thin frame became popular in the 60s, thanks to Jon Lennon, whose signature look always included such. Before the peak of their global popularity though, the rounded glasses were considered to be bicycle glasses in the USSR.

Around 1960, in France, the photochromic glasses (“chameleons”) were invented. Their special feature was the ability to change lenses’ shade of darkness according to the light intensity of the environment.

Fun facts

Modern glasses are not actually made of glass. Despite the name, the lenses in eyewear products these days are made of high-tech plastics. Such material is lighter than glass, scratch-resistant, way thinner and durable, and it can successfully be treated to have essential eye-protection filters. 

Wearing eyeglasses that do not match your diopter will not damage your eyes. It is imperative that you would not be able to see properly and you would possibly experience headaches due to eye strain and eye fatigue, but this is the only harm from wearing someone’s glasses.

“Aviator” sunglasses were originally designed to protect the eyes of pilots from the US military while flying. After the release of the Top Gun movie, “aviators” became quite popular among the masses.