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History of Eyewear: How Glasses, Sunglasses, and Goggles Came to Be

Bob Smith inventor snow gogglesBob Smith (right) developed the first sealed thermal lens and breathable vent foam goggles in 1965, revolutionizing performance eyewear and kicking off more than half a century of innovation at Smith Optics. 

Believe it or not, eyewear—namely eyeglasses—have had a long history before Smith set out to develop a new kind of goggle. 

The History of Eyeglasses

Vision aid devices were used as far back as the Ancient Greek era, and there is evidence that Roman emperor Nero used an emerald through which to watch gladiator games. Talk about a spectacle!

In the 10th century some societies used convex lenses to enlarge and magnify images. By the 12th century Europeans had developed “reading stones” to make out tiny script. 

The Chinese, meanwhile, developed rudimentary versions of sunglasses using flat planes of smoky quartz to hide the eyes (and expressions) of trial judges. 

The first true eyeglasses were made in Northern Italy around 1290. These early glasses consisted of two magnifying glasses riveted together to grip the nose and used to correct farsightedness. 

In the 16th century concave lenses where created for nearsighted Pope Leo X. 

Benjamin Franklin has famously been credited with inventing bifocals in the mid-18th century to correct for both nearsightedness and age-related farsightedness, though some sources attribute this innovation to English eyeglass makers. 

In 1825 a British astronomer designed lenses that corrected for astigmatism’s blurriness. 

The modern style of glasses with ear pieces was developed sometime around 1730 by an English optician. 

About 20 years later frames were further refined with hinges to enable folding, though styles with handles remained fashionable into the early 19th century.

Eyeglass fashion evolved throughout the 20th century with certain styles becoming popular then losing favor—before trending again decades later. 

Recently some tech companies have introduced “smartglasses,” glasses with image capture and Web connectivity. In 2013 Google began selling prototypes of its Google Glass, eyeglass-shaped optical displays that show information received from the Internet. In 2017 Snapchat introduced Spectacles capable of recording short videos automatically uploaded to a user’s online account.Smith Optics Lowdown Focus smartglasses

SMITH's Lowdown Focus Brain Sensing Eyewear (pictured) is the world's first eyewear capable of providing accurate, real-time feedback on the wearer's brain activity and helps users learn to control their focus.

The History of Sunglasses

Sunglasses have a history predating even Nero’s time: prehistoric Inuit people wore flattened walrus tusks over their eyes to block the bright glare of snow-reflected sun rays. 

As early as the mid-18th century, eyeglass makers were experimenting with tinted lenses. Initially, the colors were intended to correct specific vision impairments—such as syphilis-induced light sensitivity. 

In 1929 Sam Foster introduced inexpensive mass-produced celluloid sunglasses to America, beginning with New Jersey’s beachgoers. 

Sunglasses then became hugely popular thanks to the influence of Hollywood stars, who wore sunglasses to shield their eyes from the bright lights of movie sets and camera flashes.

In 1936 polarized sunlight filtering (the Polaroid filter) was invented, enabling sunglasses to absorb UV and infrared light.

During World War II US Air Force pilots adopted the uniquely shaped Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, designed to provide eye protection (and “ban rays”) even when pilots needed to glance down to see their planes’ instrument panels. Ray-Bans gained popularity quickly when they began to be sold to the public in 1937.

Aviator sunglassesAs with eyeglass fashion, sunglasses style has changed and cycled in the nearly-100 years they’ve been widely available.

More recently SMITH created ChromaPop, an advanced polarized lens technology. 

The History of Goggles

Goggles were first worn by drivers and pilots of the uncovered cars and planes of the early 1900’s to protect the eyes against dust, bugs, and wind. Most goggles are designed to protect the eyes from specific dangers of construction (flying debris such as metal, plastic, and concrete) or from sports injuries incurred playing racquetball or basketball, for instance. 

In 1965 orthodontist and avid skier Dr. Bob Smith (pictured at right) developed goggles with breathable vent foam and a sealed thermal lens (AKA, double lens), creating the first fog-free snow goggles—the current design standard for snow eyewear. 

The History of Interchangeable Lenses

Everyday the lighting conditions are different from the last and will be just as different from tomorrow's. Eyewear companies the world over have now adopted interchangeable lenses to aid the wearer in any lighting condition.  Most may have adopted the concept, however in 1995 Smith invented the interchangeable lens for sunglasses. In 2007 Smith invented the interchangeable snow goggle lens. This technology now gives the wearer more versatility no matter the weather.

The History of Tactical Eyewear

Tactical (ballistic) eyewear—glasses or goggles that protect against small projectiles and fragments—with impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses has been around since the early 1960’s. Protection from ballistic threats has improved with advances in technology and manufacturing. 

SMITH ballistic lenses have protective abilities that surpass those of US Military standards (MilSpec). 

For more than 50 years, SMITH has pioneered advanced eyewear, including innovative products such as sunglasses with interchangeable lenses and goggle/helmet integrations.



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