The History of Glasses

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The History of Glasses

Nowadays, glasses are everywhere. According to one estimate, around 164 million adults in the United States (just under half of the total population) wear glasses. There’s no doubt that glasses and corrective eyewear in general have had a massive impact on our development as a nation and a species—with glasses, we’re better able to work, learn, and interact with the world. 

But glasses technology wasn’t always as advanced as it is now. Thirteenth-century glasses were made with quartz, and were more like magnifying glasses worn in front of the face than the modern glasses that we know of today. So, how exactly did we get here from there? And who invented eyeglasses

As it turns out, the history of eyeglasses is a long and fascinating one. Keep reading for a few of the major highlights and fun facts:

  • Although the Italian Salvino D’Armate is often credited with inventing the first wearable eyeglasses in 1284, history disagrees on the specifics of when and where they first appeared. Some sources indicate that the Romans were the first to use glass as a tool to help see better by magnifying small things.
  • Most sources concur that Italian monks were the first to manufacture lenses as we know them today. These early glasses contained convex lenses, which were used to help people who were far-sighted. Since monks read and wrote the most, they were probably the people most likely to use glasses at the time.
  • The history of glasses is intimately tied up with the history of art. Following the thirteenth century and through the Renaissance, the representation of eyeglasses in portraits and paintings has provided crucial details as to the development and use of glasses. For example, a 1517 portrait of Pope Leo X by Raphael provides the first evidence of the use of concave lenses for nearsightedness.
  • In 1784, Benjamin Franklin invented bifocals, which are lenses that contain two different optical powers.
  • In 1827, Sir George Biddle Airy invented cylindrical lenses, which are used to correct astigmatism.
  • Over the years, an enormous number of materials have been involved in the making of eyeglasses and frames, including quartz, metal, leather, wood, bone, horn, glass, and (more recently) plastic.

OneSight is on a mission to help the world see better by bringing affordable vision care to those who need it most. Since 1988, we’ve reached 52+ million people worldwide by distributing eyeglasses to those who need them most and providing ongoing access to vision care through permanent vision centers. Our strategy is focused on both meeting immediate needs and establishing long-term solutions, and involves a combination of charitable clinics and sustainable vision centers. Contact us for more information about how you can make a difference in ending the vision care crisis, or consider donating to support our work.