Winter days in Oregon can often be bleak, dark, and dank. This winter we really haven’t had much serious winter weather. Our nearby local ski areas have had serious issues with the lack of snow. However, every so often there is a day that brightens up our lives even if just a little. I recently experienced one such day. As I left my driveway the sky above me was dark with cloud cover.
Less that a mile down the road I was blinded by the bright sun that popped out from between the clouds. The subject of this column should be obvious. Sunglasses have become second nature to us, but who came up with the idea? What did people do before these convenient one-size-fits-all shades were invented? That’s what I wanted to find out.
According to Origins and History of Sunglasses on glasses history.com “While even in prehistoric time Inuit peoples wore flattened walrus ivory glasses to block harmful reflected rays of the sun, the earliest historical reference to sun glasses dates back to ancient China and Rome.
The Roman emperor Nero watched gladiator fights through polished gems. ” The gems only reduced the glare and had no protective value at all from the suns damaging rays.
Zenni Optical, USA in their History of Eyeglasses has an interesting piece of information related to Nero. It seems Nero’s tutor named Seneca used a bowl of water claiming that he read “all the books in Rome” through the water in the bowl. Quoting their History of Eyeglasses “This was the introduction of of corrective lenses, which was advanced, a bit, in Venice around 1000 C.E., when Seneca’s bowl and water (and possible goldfish) were replaced by a flat-bottom, convex glass sphere that was laid on top of the reading material, becoming in effect the first magnifying glass and enabling the Sherlock Holmes of medieval Italy to gather numerous clues to solve crimes. These “reading stones” also allowed monks to read, write, and illuminate manuscripts after they turned 40.”
In the 12th century the Chinese used flat panes of smokey quartz as lenses for their sunglasses. The article refers to that fact that ancient Chinese judges used crystal sunglasses to conceal their facial expressions when they interrogated witnesses.
It was around 1752 that James Ayscough experimented with tinted lenses for eyeglasses using blue or green tinted glass to correct specific vision problems. Protection from the sun’s harmful rays was still not a concern. This use is one use I have never heard of, but it seems yellow-amber and brown lenses were put in glasses during the 19th and 20th century for people suffering from syphilis because the disease also caused a sensitivity to light.
It took until 1929 for sunglasses to be brought to the United States. Sam Foster went to the beaches of Atlantic City, New Jersey, and sold his Foster Grant sunglasses at a the Woolworth store on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk.
Seven years later Edwin H. Land started using his polarizing filter to make lenses for sunglasses. You might recognize his name from the Polaroid Land instant camera.
The famous Ray-Ban Aviator sun glasses became available to the public in 1939 with the trademark metal frames and were used by pilots during WWII and it didn’t take long for the public and celebrities to start wearing them. The Aviator sunglasses are still very popular despite the number of various styles of sunglasses available today.
An article also titled The Origins and History of Sunglasses written by Darshan Kulkarni on lens pic.com from October 23, 2015 states “Sunglasses are a form of protective eyewear designed primarily to prevent high-energy light and bright sunlight from discomforting or hurting the eyes. Sun glasses for men and women can sometimes function as a visual aid, as variously termed glasses or spectacles exist, featuring lenses that are coloured, darkened, or polarized. Sunglasses are recommended whenever a person is in the sun to protect the eyes from blue light and ultraviolet radiation (UV), which can cause some serious eye problems.”
There you have it. You know just about everything there is to know about sunglasses. The only problem might be choosing your next pair of sunglasses.
Let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].