Sunglasses are a must-have not only for beach trips, but also for skiing trips (the stark white color of the snow can be glaring to the eyes) and on any other instances when you go out under the searing sun or face the blinding nightlights. A pair of sunglasses also bars dust or soot which may enter into and irritate the eyes. It can be also be a classic fashion statement.
If you are convinced that sunglasses are a modern-day invention, think again. You may be surprised that the origins of the sunglasses trace way back as far as the prehistoric era. There, Inuit people began to flatten pieces of ivory into glasses to block the reflective rays of the sun that could harm their eyes. They are often referred to as “snow googles.”
However, the earliest historical evidence of the sunglasses trace back to ancient Rome and China. It is being said that the infamous emperor Nero used to watch gladiator fights using his own spectacles.
The Chinese began to use sunglasses as early as the 12th century. They were made mostly of quartz that were hammered into flat panes. While these ancient sunglasses did little to correct their vision nor offer protection from sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, they otherwise did bar the eyes from the glare. Historical evidences described that the judges used to wear eyeglasses as to conceal their true facial expression while interrogating witnesses.
During the mid-18th century, English optician James Ayscough experimented with tinted lenses, because he believed tinted lenses could correct several vision impairments. However, the potentially damaging effects of the sun’s rays to the eyes were not yet a concern during that time, so they were not being called as real “sunglasses” just yet. Yellow-tinted eyeglasses were usually prescribed for patients suffering from syphilis because sensitivity to bright lights was one of its symptoms.
During the early 20th century, the use of the sunglasses became more popular, particularly among Hollywood celebrities. At first, many thought that these stars wore eyeglasses to evade their fans’ attention. However, they did so most likely because their eyes tended to get irritated by the extremely bright arc lamps that had been predominant at film sets and studios during that time. But even as the lighting significantly improved in later years, celebrities still continued to wear sunglasses which, perhaps subconsciously, also became a fashion accessory.
In 1929, Sam Foster came out with the first mass-produced sunglasses that were made from celluloid. He began selling them on the beaches of Atlantic City in New Jersey, under the company name Foster Grant.
By the mid-1930s, about 20 million sunglasses had been reportedly sold in the US alone, although only about 25% of the buyers used them as their primary protection to their eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays. The inventor of the Polaroid, Edwin H. Land, began experimenting with Polaroid filter on lenses in 1936. In the same year, polarized sunglasses were first produced by Bausch & Lomb specifically for pilots to protect their eyes while flying their planes — thus, the “aviator sunglasses” were born. They are now marketed by Ray-Ban, although other companies also manufacture and sell aviator sunglasses as well.
Thanks to modern technology, the quality and function of the sunglasses have significantly improved. Sunglasses with UV protection have nearly turned into an industry standard. Apart from the UV ray protection, sunglasses are also available with many tints, frames and designs.
Celebrities have been seen wearing oversized designer eyeglasses not just to protect their eyes from the glare of the sun and the flashing lights from the paparazzi. They’re wearing sunglasses as a popular fashion accessory as well. But whether you’re a celebrity or an ordinary person, everyone’s eyes deserve a special protection from the sun’s harmful rays and the glaring lights — so get a good quality pair of sunglasses when you can!