Contemporary sunglasses have undergone substantial transformations from their rudimentary beginnings as a mere measure to shield the eyes from the sun’s glare. Nowadays, there are countless styles, designs, and colors of sunglasses are available. But who invented the first pair of sunglasses?
The invention of sunglasses can be traced back to ancient times, when the Inuit people used flattened walrus ivory “glasses” to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare. However, the modern concept of sunglasses as we know them today can be attributed to the English optician James Ayscough.
Let’s take a closer look at how the first sunglasses were created, what materials were used, and what the glasses looked like. It’s a fascinating story that’ll give you a new appreciation of this essential accessory.
Who Invented Sunglasses?
The history of sunglasses can be traced back to ancient times when the Inuit people used flattened walrus ivory “glasses” to shield their eyes from the sun’s glare. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that modern-day sunglasses started taking shape.
James Ayscough, an English optician, is often credited with the modern-day invention of sunglasses. In the 18th century, Ayscough experimented with tinted lenses in eyeglasses in an attempt to improve vision impairments.
He believed that blue or green lenses could correct specific vision problems and that tinted lenses could enhance visual comfort in bright sunlight. Though Ayscough’s tinted lenses weren’t designed specifically as sunglasses, they did offer some level of protection from the sun’s glare.
Sunglasses in the Twentieth Century
In 1929, Sam Foster introduced inexpensive sunglasses to America, and they quickly became a fashion trend.
The military soon adopted sunglasses to protect soldiers’ eyes from the sun’s glare, and, by the 1930s, sunglasses had become a part of mainstream fashion.
In the 1930s, Polaroid founder Edwin H. Land created polarized sunglasses. These glasses reduced glare by blocking out horizontally polarized light, which was reflected off surfaces such as water, snow, and glass.
Polarized sunglasses were particularly beneficial to fishermen, sailors, and pilots who needed to see through the reflected glare.
In the 1950s, sunglasses manufacturer Ray-Ban introduced its classic Wayfarer sunglasses, which quickly became a cultural icon. The Wayfarer’s bold design and sturdy construction made it popular among musicians, actors, and other celebrities, cementing its place in fashion history.
Modern sunglasses are available in various designs, shapes, and colors and can be customized with polarized or prescription lenses. Sunglasses are also used in sports, as specialized glasses are designed for skiing, biking, and golf activities.
What Were the Earliest Sunglasses Made From?
The earliest recorded use of sunglasses was by the Inuit people, who fashioned sunglasses out of flattened walrus ivory that had slender openings.
The narrow slits limited the light that could enter the eyes, reducing the glare and protecting their eyes from snow blindness caused by exposure to bright sunlight reflecting off snow and ice.
These early sunglasses were not designed for fashion but for practical purposes and were not widely used outside the Inuit communities.
In ancient China, sunglasses were produced utilizing smoky quartz, a semi-transparent mineral with the added benefit of blocking harmful ultraviolet rays. The lenses were shaped and polished to create a seamless surface, ensuring optimal optical clarity.
The frames were made from various materials, including bamboo, which was lightweight and easy to shape. These early sunglasses had a basic design and weren’t intended for fashion purposes.
Instead, judges in ancient Chinese courts primarily used them to conceal their facial expressions and maintain impartiality.
Later, sunglasses made of smoky quartz became popular among the Chinese nobility, who used them to protect their eyes from the sun’s glare during horseback rides and other outdoor activities.
How Effective Were Early Sunglasses?
Although early Inuit sunglasses weren’t as sophisticated as modern sunglasses, they effectively reduced the amount of light entering the eyes and mitigated the effects of glare.
However, these early sunglasses weren’t designed for fashion but instead for practical purposes, and they weren’t widely used outside of the Inuit communities.
Nonetheless, they were an innovative and effective solution to the problem of sun glare and helped the Inuit people to navigate their environment more comfortably and safely.