Can you imagine wearing glasses without the part of the frame known as the temple? How about constantly carrying around two pairs of glasses and interchanging them instead of using bifocals? Eyeglasses have come a long way since they were invented. In fact, no one is sure when exactly they were invented.
The Early Days
The earliest known lens has been found in the ruins of ancient Nineveh; this was a rock crystal that had been polished. Lenses were used in ancient times for cauterizing wounds, burning holes in parchment, and erasing letters off of wax tablets. It was not until around 1000 A.D. that lenses were first used to magnify writing. These lenses were known as “reading stones” and were the precursor to the modern magnifying glass; they were set on top of manuscripts to magnify the letters. It was not until several hundred years later, between 1268 and 1289, that the first pair of eyeglasses was developed in Italy. It was a simple pair of convex quartz stones or crystals surrounded by a frame and a handle for each stone; the handles were connected by a rivet, and the glasses were balanced on the nose or held in front of the face. The name of the inventor has been lost, but the idea took off quickly, and a crystal workers’ guild in Italy had already developed regulations for making crystal eye lenses by 1300. Several hundred years later, eyeglasses were being manufactured in large quantities.
The first frames with temples were not invented until the 1600’s. These frames, invented in Spain, had loops of cord or string attached to them that went around the ears. The Chinese modified this version of the frames by attaching weights to the strings so that they counterbalanced the frame behind the ears. Rigid temples, such as are used on the frames we have nowadays, were not invented until 1730 by English optician Edward Scarlett.
Benjamin Franklin carried two pairs of glasses around for a while, one for near vision and one for far vision. He grew frustrated with having to switch the glasses out, and he finally cut the lenses of each pair in half and combined two halves of each in a frame. Thus, the bifocal was invented in the 1780’s, and the trifocal soon followed.
Sign of Social Acceptability – Intelligence and Wealth
Eyeglasses went through stages in social acceptability, as well. At some points, they were regarded as status symbols (such as in China when they were first introduced) or as symbols of intelligence and wealth, while at other times they were considered embarrassments because they exposed physical weakness. Thankfully, there are no negative stigmas attached to eyeglasses in modern times! Currently, they can be anything from a fashion statement to a pure practical necessity, and the eyeglass-wearing world thanks that one anonymous inventor who created the first pair of spectacles.