The History of Glasses

By Gordon Wong, OD on June 07, 2019

EyeglassesMillions of Americans suffer from some degree of vision loss. While there are several options available to correct vision impairment, prescription eyeglasses remain one of the most common. At Gordon Wong Eye Designs & Optometry, our La Jolla, CA patients can choose from a wide selection of designer eyewear that improves vision while allowing patients to reflect their personal style.

Although patients today have an impressive assortment of lenses and frames to choose from, that wasn’t always the case. Here, we provide a brief overview of the history of the glasses to show just how far the world of eye care has advanced.

The Earliest Glasses

There seems to be no recorded history that specifies exactly when the first pair of glasses was invented. Instead, most of our knowledge regarding the earliest pairs of glasses comes from art. Many Renaissance paintings depict people (mainly scholars and monks) using hand-held glasses or wearing glasses that perch on the nose.

It is believed that the Romans were some of the first to use glass to magnify objects, but they relied mostly on small, handheld glass spheres that were similar to today’s magnifying glasses. The earliest styles of wearable glasses likely originated in Italy around the 13th century.

Early glasses consisted of glass-blown lenses that were framed by wood, leather, or animal bones. The frames did not include any arms, instead the lenses simply rested in place on the bridge of the nose. To address different vision needs, lenses were made in varying thickness levels. This rudimentary design resulted in heavy glasses that were probably difficult to keep in place.

Important Innovations

There have been many innovations that have improved the design of eyeglasses and made them accessible to a wider range of people, but changes didn’t come quickly. Over the course of several centuries, glasses have gradually evolved from the first wearable glasses seen in Renaissance paintings to the modern designer frames that are available to our La Jolla patients today.

Some of the most notable innovations to impact the production and design of glasses include:

  • Introduction of arms that hook over the ears to make glasses hands-free in the 1700s
  • Invention of the bifocal lens (widely credited to Benjamin Franklin around 1784)
  • Invention of cylindrical lenses to correct astigmatism in 1825
  • The industrial revolution, which made it easier to mass produce glasses
  • The development of plastics in the 1900s, which allowed for stronger, lighter eyeglass frames
  • Introduction of plastic lenses (which were thinner and lighter) in the 1980s

Glasses As a Style Statement

Because of all the innovations that made glasses lighter and more comfortable to wear, not to mention easier to produce, the focus during the 20th century shifted largely to eyeglass design. For the first time, glasses were introduced in a variety of shapes, colors, and styles. Today, our La Jolla patients can select from a wide range of glasses, including designer frames, that complement their personal style.

Contact Us

At Gordon Wong Eye Designs & Optometry, we offer a comprehensive range of services to meet our patient’s eye care needs. If you suffer from vision impairment or have eye health concerns, our doctors would be happy to help. Contact us at your earliest convenience or call (858) 454-4699 to schedule an appointment.

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