The History of Eyeglasses
Vision impairment is nothing new. Fortunately, professional eye care services can preserve eye health and vision. However, eye doctors and prescription lenses haven’t been available forever.
Before the invention of eyeglasses, those with vision impairment had to tough things out and deal with blurry vision. Because vision impairment is so common, it is not surprising that many people throughout history worked on innovations to address this problem.
Here, we discuss the history of eyeglasses. Contact our Monterey, CA practice, Monterey County Eye Associates, to learn more about your prescription lens options.
Ancient Vision Treatment
Prior to the invention of prescription eyeglasses, many people suffered from vision impairment. To address this problem, it has been reported that people in Ancient Rome used a clear bowl of water to magnify print for reading.
This idea may have led to a more advanced innovation that was developed in Venice around 1000 C.E. People began using convex glass spheres to magnify images. These “reading stones” would be laid atop whatever text or image the person was looking at, and essentially acted as the first magnifying glass.
Although the exact date is unclear, it is estimated that the first pair of wearable corrective eyeglasses was introduced in Italy around 1300. These glasses simply connected two reading stones with a wire that could be balanced on the bridge of the nose.
This invention quickly spread throughout Europe, but the problem was that reading stones only corrected vision for farsighted individuals. This changed in the 16th century when a set of concave lenses were connected to make spectacles for Pope Leo X, who was nearsighted.
With both nearsighted and farsighted lenses available, the biggest concern became creating eyeglasses that would stay on the face. The Spanish and Chinese each came up with their own solution for this problem.
Eyeglass makers in Spain attached lengths of ribbon to either side of the eyeglasses. This ribbon would be looped around the wearer’s ears.
In China, manufacturers also used ribbon, but rather than looping it around the ear, they attached small weights to the end of the ribbon. These weights hung behind the wearer’s ear to help hold the glasses in place.
Finally, in 1730, a London optician created eyeglasses that had sturdy arms that could rest over the top of the ears; 22 years later, another eyeglass designer added hinges to these arms, creating the foldable eyeglass design that is still used today.
Although the basic eyeglass design has remained largely unchanged since the 18th century, there have been many innovations that affect how eyeglass lenses are made. The most notable of these is the invention of the bifocal lens in the 1700s.
While many people attribute this invention to Benjamin Franklin, there is evidence that the bifocal may actually have been invented in England around 1750.
Later, in 1825, an English astronomer created a concave cylindrical lens that corrected both nearsightedness and astigmatism. This was quickly followed by the invention of a trifocal lens in 1827.
Following this, there were no other major eyeglass innovations until 1959, when technology made it possible to offer progressive lenses to the public.
While desired eyeglass styles continue to change, the basic principles behind prescription eyeglasses has remained largely the same since this time.
Schedule an Appointment
Thanks to the rich history of eyeglasses, we offer a variety of prescription lenses that address all manners of vision impairment. If you need eyeglasses, or would like to learn more about our other eye care services, call (831) 375-2020 to schedule an appointment at your earliest convenience.