What You Probably Didn’t Know About the Evolution of Glasses

What You Probably Didn’t Know About the Evolution of Glasses

Why Are Glasses Important?

Glasses are an apparatus that have been such a staple of public life for so long, we don’t even notice them, like they’re just another part of your body. According to the Vision Council of America, 75 per cent of Americans employ some sort of vision correction, 64 per cent of whom wear eyeglasses. If you’re reading this article, there’s a better chance that you’re seeing these words through lenses than not.

Like all physical parts of the body, human vision is prone to several possible liabilities from defects like stigmatism to the almost-inevitable diminishing of vision acuteness with age. Because our society is so rapidly changing and we are experiencing more demands to be competitive all the time, all of our senses rely on acuteness, and your vision is especially important since just about all administration jobs rely on it.

The use of glasses has since even transcended its practical uses. A few decades ago, people in glasses were derided for being “four-eyed.” Fashion sense has come a long way since then. With the advent of “geek chic” and nerd culture, glasses as a fashion are enjoying a sort of renaissance, with people wearing them simply because glasses are now en-vogue, fashionable, and trending.

The benefits of wearing glasses are obviously not limited to fashion and employment factors. Clear vision just makes everything better: neon marquees, travel destinations, watching movies and television, and even the simple joy of seeing other faces. Needless to say, everything in life propels people with diminished vision to try to enhance it somehow, and the tried, true, first, and lasting method to vision correction is glasses. An apparatus whose prototypes were invented millennia ago is still being used to this day, which is a testament to glasses being one of humankind’s finest inventions.

The History of Glasses

The first noted historical figures known to have used refraction through glass to enhance reading abilities date back to Rome around the beginning of the Christian Era. A Roman tragedian named Seneca is said to have found a way to “read all the books of Rome” by using a simple glass globe of water. Over a century later, around 150 CE, the Greek scholar Claudius Ptolemy published Optics, which is the first known written account of the use of lenses to enhance vision.

Since then, research and comments on the use of curved glass to aid in vision had been sporadically written over the next 1,500 years by various scholars and writers. In the 13th century, Northern Italy oversaw the development of the first prototypes of eyeglasses.

Notable Developments

The first iteration of glasses worn on the face was depicted in 1352 by an artist named de Modena. The invention of glasses as eyewear is attributed to Silvio D’Armate in 1284. This primary innovation of incorporating curved glass into wearable spectacles was the primary and lasting innovation of spectacles as we see them even today. However, even though the rudimentary concept stayed the same, there have been myriad developments in the gradual evolution of eyewear, from refinement of the lenses for near and far sightedness to the size and shape of the lenses to the size and shape of the frames to fit all sizes of faces.

After the scientific revolution during the enlightenment, it was much better understood how the eye functioned. Having learned how one can become nearsighted or farsighted and to what degree, the first concave (curved inward) and convex (curved outward) lenses were invented in the 17th century. With concave glass, light becomes diverged, aiding people with nearsightedness by expanding their vision. The principle is the same with convex glasses, only in this instance, light rays converge, mitigating the length perception for farsighted people.

Following this, new developments in vision correction started to happen sporadically and more often in the following century. In 1784, American Revolutionary figure Benjamin Franklin invented bifocal reading glasses, which involved a split lens with two different intensities, the upper one for surrounding vision, the lower one for precision tasks like reading. Then, 1825 brought about the development of cylindrical lenses crafted for people with astigmatism (an elliptical misshaping of the eye resulting in blurred vision).

Since then, manufacturing of eyeglasses became more refined. Glass was no longer the only material used for manufacturing lenses. Eye glasses made of plastic or polycarbonate were lighter and cheaper, but were more prone to damage from scratching.

Modern Innovations

With the functional innovations of eyewear amply refined, next came leaps in both aesthetic quality and specialization. Atop the basic-purpose lens-frame product used for vision enhancement came different materials and color for frames; sunglasses with single shades, and eventually, variable shades; and glasses designed specifically for certain activities, like sunlight-reflecting skiing goggles, glasses for riding bikes, and safety glasses for the workplace.

The boom in technological advancement in the modern digital age has brought with it a veritable slough of novel innovations. Now, glasses are available with small screens in the corners with a built-in GPS, Google glasses, glasses with variable shades for different times of the day (like TrueDark glasses which curb unnecessary light, sold by TrueDark), single-lens sunglasses, smart glasses, computer glasses, and 3-D goggles. The next few years are sure to bring interesting, exciting, and multi-purpose advancements in eyewear.

For such an innocuous and common object, glasses have a varied and colorful history. We have come from using large glass objects to small glass objects to portable framed glasses to reading glasses to variable-lens glasses to TrueDark and GPS-screen glasses. But even with your basic two-lens-in-a-frame pair of eye glasses, the importance of the eye glass in human life over the past two millennia cannot be overstated. History has changed, empires have risen and fallen, and eye glasses have outlasted them all in the test of time.

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