The fascinating development of eye glasses over the centuries shows us that some inventions we thought were fairly modern actually have been around for far longer than we would have thought possible. This is the case with glasses, which have been with us in at least a tangential way since the ancient Egyptians. Indeed, these assistive devices have a long and proud history.
The technical definition of “spectacles, ” or “glasses” today are that they are frames that hold lenses which are then placed in front of a person’s eyes to aid in correcting vision, in protecting the eyes from harm or to guard against ultraviolet radiation or all three at once. Given the development of fashion, it should all be said that some are worn strictly for fashion purposes nowadays.
There have been a number of versions of spectacles down through the centuries, also. This includes the monocle (which is a single eyeglass lens), the pince-nez (worn on the bridge of the nose and held there by a pair of pads on either side of the nose) and other types, including highly stylized scissors-glasses, which sat on a Y-shaped frame and were used to correct distance-vision issues.
The earliest historical reference to eye vision and the need to improve it are found in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs from over 2800 years ago. In writings from the 1st century CE, a tutor of the Emperor Nero made mention of how vision could be improved by peering through a glass of water. Nero used a gemstone (emerald) to improve his vision by gazing through it at times.
The Arab scholar and inventor Abbas Ibn Firnas, who lived in the 9th century, is credited with producing what are thought to be the first corrective lenses. He’d worked to develop extremely clear glass and put these glass stones to work in viewing objects and writings. An actual shaped convex lens was discussed in a book on optics dating from the year 1021.
Other developments in lens technology occurred around the year 1235, when optical glass was mentioned to have the incredible ability to enable one to read even the smallest of letters from a great distance. On a side note, fashionable sunglasses seem to have made an appearance in China, and are mentioned in writings in the China of the 12th century or thereabouts as a way to cut down on glare.
The first actual pair of eyeglasses that could be worn regularly are thought to have been invented in 1284 in Italy. Most scholars agree, at any rate, that they came into being at some point between 1280 and 1300, and were invented in Italy. The great American inventor and statesman Benjamin Franklin invented the first bifocals in 1784. Corrective lenses were developed in 1825.
Since then, eye glasses have only become more precise, more durable and even more fashionable — within the bounds of what is considered fashion at any one point in time. They have made life just a bit easier to bear for nearly a thousand years on, having been formally created in the late 13th century, and they show no signs of losing their importance any time soon.