When Were Sunglasses Invented? A History of Sunglasses and Styles
Keeping our eyes protected from the sun seems like an obvious thing these days, but the humble pair of sunglasses have only been used to protect against UV rays for a relatively short time. However, that does not mean that sunglasses are a new invention. Far from it. The forerunners of the sunglasses date back to ingenious North American Arctic tribes. Here, we’ll be taking you on a tour of the history of sunglasses, as well as discovering the stories behind some of the most popular styles. So strap into our time machine as we take things way, way back.
When were Sunglasses Invented?
The beginnings of sunglasses can be traced back to Inuit tribes over 2,000 years ago, where walrus bones, driftwood, or caribou antlers were given slits, and then worn. These were used to protect wearers from the bright light of the sun hitting the snow. They were known as nigaugek as well as igguag.
It is also written in Pliny the Elder’s work Natural History that the Roman Emperor Nero looked through polished emeralds to watch gladiator matches. As well as being extremely impractical (and extremely expensive), it is only speculated that this actually happened. Rumours go from Nero being short-sighted, to this helping reduce the glare in the outdoor arenas.
In 12th Century China, flat smoked quartz lens panes were introduced as eyewear. These were called Ai Tai. However, these weren’t primarily used to protect eyes from the sun, nor were they intended to be worn outside. They were mostly used in court by magistrate judges to prevent people from reading their expressions. In the 15th Century, these lenses were fitted in frames.
Who Invented Sunglasses?
Like a lot of instances of human ingenuity, there is not one single individual who invented sunglasses. Rather, it is something that has developed over a long period of time. Glasses with darkened or tinted lenses were not originally designed to protect eyes from UV rays - this has been a relatively recent purpose of sunglasses.
When Were Aviator Sunglasses Invented?
During World War II, the optical lens company Bausch & Lomb were commissioned by the Army Air Corps to create lenses that would help protect pilots’ vision from glares at high altitudes. The result was the creation of Ray-Ban (banning the Sun’s rays). These glasses used the G15 lens, tinted dark green to absorb bright light.
When Were Modern Sunglasses Invented?
The modern sunglasses - as we understand them - weren’t really invented. However, they came to the mass market in the 20th Century, by Foster Grant (founder of the Foster Grant Company). These affordable designs were made using injection moulding and celluloid. They were initially sold on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, New Jersey. From here, their popularity skyrocketed.
When Were Polarised Sunglasses Invented?
The aviator glasses were next in line to be developed by Ray-Ban in the mid 1930s, and were the first to make use of polarised-lenses. This technology came from Edwin H. Land (who founded Polaroid). These unique lenses filter out harmful UV rays by blocking out intense light that is reflected on surfaces. These were coupled with the frame design made to protect the whole perimeter of the wearer’s eyes. Although the aviator was originally designed with protection at the forefront, they have since become - and remain - a very popular frame designer.
A Brief Timeline of Sunglasses
Let’s take a look at a brief timeline of all the major milestones in the development of sunglasses.
Indigenous Native American tribes - Sun or snow goggles were worn. These were made from natural materials with slits in.
12th Century, China - Smoked quartz lenses worn to hide emotion in criminal trials.
18th Century, Italy - The modern eyeglass is developed, using wire frames to hold the lenses.
18th Century, Italy - Green tinted spectacles were used for sun protection, notably in Venice. These were known as Goldoni Glasses, after the playwright playwright Carlo Goldoni. They were often worn by Gondoliers, who needed protection from the glare of the sun bouncing of Venetian canals.
18th Century, Britain - James Ayscough introduces blue and green tinted lenses to help improve vision for his clients. These weren’t designed to protect eyes from the sun, but rather glares and very bright lights.
19th Century, Europe - A syphilis outbreak resulted in yellow tinted glasses being made. This was to treat light sensitivity that it can cause.
1929, USA - Sam Foster begins mass production on commercial sunglasses
1930, USA - The Army Air Corps commissions glasses to help protect pilots’s sight at high altitudes. Dark green lenses were the result.
1936, USA - Ray Bans develops polarised lenses that it uses in the popular aviator style.
1960s and 70s, USA - More and more Hollywood stars are spotted wearing sunglasses. This is partly due to protection from the bright lights used on movie sets, which frequently caused eye discomfort. Sunglasses also offered a level of anonymity for celebrities. The popularity of sunglasses was heightened by Foster Grant’s advertising campaign in the 60s, which associated sunglasses with celebrities, and made them even more glamorous and desirable.
Today, worldwide - Sunglasses are both a practical accessory and an expression of personal style. There are multiple different models available, all in a variety of colours, materials, and sizes. Technology continues to evolve in protection from UV rays.