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The History of Glasses Goes Back Almost 1,000 Years

By Jeffrey Schultz on January 05, 2017

Glasses on a window sillWe like to discuss various vision issues with patients who come to our Cleveland eye care practice. When it comes to eyewear and corrective lenses, materials and styles are common topics. Yet there's also a fascinating history to what we wear to help us see the world.

With that in mind, let's consider the wonderful world of glasses and eye wear and what corrective lenses can do for you.

An Early Understanding of Lenses

The potential of convex lenses to enhance vision goes back to an Arabic text by Alhazen known as the Book of Optics, which dates back to 1021. This book detailed the potential for such convex lenses to magnify images. It would be translated into Latin in the 12th century.

Further writing and exploration on the potential of lenses to enhance vision would occur in Europe throughout the 13th century.

The First Glasses

The first glasses were invented in Italy in the lat 13th century. Some people date the invention of glasses to 1286, though some estimate put the invention of glasses somewhere between 1268 and 1300. Even now it is unclear who actually invented eyeglasses; a text from Pisa jokes that eyeglasses were first made by someone who was unwilling to share them.

These early eyeglasses were essentially two magnifying glasses that were connected by a hinge that was meant to be balanced on the bridge of the nose. This would be the basis for pince-nez-style glasses in the future.

These early glasses were ideal for addressing hyperopia (farsightedness) and presbyopia (age-related farsightedness).

Glasses for Myopia (Nearsightedness)

In the early 16th century, the first glasses for nearsightedness were invented. These glasses used concave lenses to help improve distance vision. They were created for Pope Leo X, who was nearsighted.

Whether treating nearsightedness or farsightedness, the pince-nez design made them difficult to wear since they would often slip and fall from a person's face.

The History of Keeping Glasses in Place

We take the temple arms on glasses for granted, assuming they were intuitive from the start. The fact of the matter is that it took a while for these to be invented.

The first arms on glasses were ribbons, an innovation by the Spanish. The ribbons were looped around a person's ears. When glasses arrived in China through Spanish and Italian missionaries, the Chinese attached small weights to the ends of the ribbons so they would not have to be looped around the ears.

It wasn't until 1730 that the precursor to the modern temple arms were born. A London optician named Edward Scarlett put two rigid arms on the sides of the frames, allowing glasses to rest on top of the ears. In 1752, James Ayscough added hinges so these temple arms would fold.

The Invention of Bifocals

Most people think that Benjamin Franklin was the inventor of bifocals in the 1780s. In fact, bifocals were invented in the 1760s in England. Many attribute Franklin as the inventor of bifocals due to a misread of correspondence between Franklin and a friend. The actual inventor of bifocals, like the original glasses, is unknown.

Glasses for Astigmatism

Finally in 1825, special concave cylindrical lenses were created for the treatment of astigmatism. These were made by an English astronomer named George Airy, who suffered from nearsighted astigmatism. Soon after in 1827, trifocals were invented.

Learn More About Corrective Lenses

For more information about corrective lenses and your many options for advanced vision correction, be sure to contact our advanced eye care and vision center today. The team here at our practice looks forward to your visit and discussing these issues in much greater detail.

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The Spectrum Building

6060 Rockside Woods Blvd N
Ste 110
Independence, OH 44131

Open Today 7:30am - 5:00pm

More Info Directions (216) 581-8484