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27 May 2009

Who Invented The First Sunglasses?

Jacobs Field: The View Through Kevin's SunglassesImage by laffy4k via Flickr
The wearing of sunglasses has become as popular and as common as wearing such articles of clothing as hats, ties, and gloves. Sunglasses are often considered a necessity more than an accessory. Centuries ago they were worn only by the rich and even into the early 1900's only those of fame and fortune were seen wearing these special spectacles.

Tales of "sun cheaters", among other unusual names, were spoken of back in the time of the Roman Empire, when the Emperor would cover his eyes with bits of emerald to help shade the sun from his vision. Obviously the efforts that were utilized diminished the sun but did not protect the eyes from harmful rays. They actually lessened the clarity of what people were viewing.

Sometime in 12th Century China, the first sunglasses were a crude slab of smoked quartz that was made for only the very rich. The quartz slab soon progressed to a slab with a roughly shaped frame to help hold the quartz to the users face. Not only were these handy items used to block out the sun but they were also used to hide emotions from others when speaking with them. This was particularly handy for judges of that time, giving them an air of detachment from the topic being discussed as well as keeping their feelings hidden while questioning the accused.

As time went on, so did the progression of the appearance of sunglasses. Circa 1400, sunglasses were darkened and introduced into Italy via the Chinese. In the 18th century a man named James Ayscough was experimenting with sunglasses but not to help keep out the sun's rays but to help with improving vision for those with poor or failing eye sight. He believed that by changing the color of the lenses to a blue/green tint, he could help correct certain vision conditions.

But sunglasses did not become popular until the early 1920's, when the stars and starlets of Hollywood began using them to shield their eyes from the stage lights and the cameras' blinding flashbulbs. Mass production of sunglasses came about in the late 1920's, when a man named Sam Foster started his company, Foster Grant, in Atlantic City where the beach goers were a steady stream of sunglass sales..

The Army Air Corps were at the forefront of sunglass development when they approached an optical firm by the name of Bausch and Lomb to create effective eyeglasses to protect pilots from high altitude glare. In the mid 1930's Polaroid filters had been invented by Edwin H. Land (founder of the Polaroid Corporation) which now changed sunglasses from being an item to keep out the sun but also to that of a health aid because they now also protected the eyes from harmful UV rays. By the late 1930's when World War II was on the brink of exploding, anti-glare aviator glasses were being made for the fliers and a year later the same sunglass technology was available for the general public.

By the 1960's, sunglasses rose in popularity as a stunning fashion statement. In the 1970's sales were still steadily climbing and many fashion designers and stars of stage and screen came out with their own designs and styles. Sunglasses are attractive, practical, and are now available in every imaginable shape, size, and color. They are even available for infants and seniors and every age group in between. They have come a long way from bits of emerald and smoked quartz held up to the eyes to the beautiful designs we see today.



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