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When Were Glasses Invented

When Were Glasses Invented

Every day more than 164 million adults in the United States put on a pair of glasses. We often don’t think about the history behind our glasses when we put them on in the morning. However, if we take a closer look at the history of glasses, a fascinating and rich tale unravels.

Modern glasses have evolved into dozens of different types of eyewear, from reading glasses and blue light glasses to sun protection and more. But when were glasses invented, and who do we have to thank for this daily item we so often take for granted?

Let’s take a trip through history to find out.

The History of Glasses

Learning the history of glasses not only develops an appreciation for objects we use every day, but it helps us understand how they evolved into the eyewear we know and love today. Below, we break down the history of glasses.

Let's Start at the Beginning

While the definite first use of glasses in history is fuzzy, we first encounter the use of glasses in Ancient Rome. The playwright Seneca, who lived in the First century AD, is credited with using a glass lens to magnify words on a page. This is how he read the ancient books and scrolls of Rome.

The magnifying device he used was a glass globe filled with water, but it helped enlarge small text and allowed him to read more clearly. We have records that this magnifying glass trend continued through history and helped monks and other elders to read ancient scrolls!

Rome is also attributed to having invented the first pair of sunglasses. Pliny the Elder recorded how Emperor Nero of Rome used bejeweled spectacles with tinted lenses to watch the gladiator games. However, it’s likely that these were to signify wealth rather than block the sun or reduce glare like modern-day sunglasses do.

Early Development

While magnifying devices were used to read, and sunglasses made of transparent stones were used in 12th century China, glasses themselves weren’t used until the 13th century in Italy. Glass blowers in Venice are responsible for creating the first-ever glasses lenses with frames around them. The glasses frames were made of bone, metal, or leather that wrapped around the head and balanced on the nose.

We not only have records of the use of glasses in 13th century Venice, but we have art to depict it as well. In fact, there is a theory that Roger Bacon, a friar, was one of the first to suggest glasses. Others point to Alessandro Della Spina of Florence.

The painting "Portrait of the Cardinal Hugh de Provence” by Tommaso da Modena in 1352 depicts a group of monks using eyeglasses to read and write their manuscripts in a scriptorium.

These glasses were able to magnify words, just like the Romans and medieval Monks used them, but it wasn’t until four centuries later that corrective lenses were thought up. In the 17th century, these lenses developed further and are closer to the glasses we wear today.

Further Development and Corrective Lenses

During the 17th century, glasses developed significantly. As glasses were introduced to more and more people, they developed into corrective lenses. In the 17th century, concave lenses and convex lenses were already being used in eyeglasses. Because of how each type of lens manipulates rays of light, concave lenses help people who are nearsighted, and convex lenses help those who are farsighted.

One of the most formative characters in this chapter is Benjamin Franklin, inventor and Founding Father of America. He is known for inventing the bifocals in 1784, glasses that have two distinct lens strengths in the upper and lower portions.

Further development to corrective lenses took place in 1825 when Sir George Airy is credited for making the first pair of cylindrical lenses that could correct astigmatism or blurry vision when looking near or far. From this point on, glasses were developed into what we know today.

Not long afterward, John McAllister would open the very first optical shop in America (specifically Philadelphia). Several years later, sunglasses became a trend that swept through the 1930s and continued to today. Luckily, glasses stores across the country are much more accessible. Find a retailer near you here.

However, there’s more to glasses than just lenses. What about when glasses frames were invented and how they developed through history?

Let’s take a closer look!

What About Frames?

Now that we’ve taken a look at how lenses developed throughout history, from pieces of glass that magnified words to shaped lenses that could correct vision, let’s take a look at the history of eyewear frames.

In the 17th century, Spanish craftsmen developed silk ribbons attached to glasses lenses that held them in place. These ribbons looped around the ears and were a fashion statement and declaration of wealth as much as they were for convenience.

Rather than loop ribbons over their ears, the Chinese did things differently. In China, it was common for people to secure glasses lenses with ribbons and then drape them over the tops of their ears with small weights on the bottom of the ribbons to keep them there.

A later common style was the pince-nez, which perched on the bridge of the nose.

Everything changed in the 18th century. London optician, Edward Scarlett, invented the first pair of glasses that went past the temples to metal ear hooks. This led to more rigid frames made of metal that fit like modern glasses do. From leather frames and silk ribbons to metal frames and now plastic, the history of glasses frames is rich too.

Glasses Today

Modern glasses have taken many strides from the first pairs of glasses ever used. Glasses were originally made with heavy glass, while most glasses today are made of plastic or polycarbonate. This change took place in the early 20th century and is not only safer and lighter but more resistant to scratches and impact than glass lenses are.

As history progressed, so did our understanding of how the eyes worked. When corrective lenses were invented, Sir Airy and Benjamin Franklin understood farsightedness and nearsightedness. However, it wasn’t until much later that prescription lenses, reading glasses strength, UV protection in sunglasses, and further developments took place.

Today, there are glasses options of all varieties, no matter what eye concerns you have.

We see the first appearance of corrective lenses around the 17th century, but it wasn’t until much later that reading glasses and lens magnifications were perfected. Now, there are reading glasses options for everyone, no matter what your strength needs are.

Here at Foster Grant, we offer reading glasses, Multi Focus™ lenses, and even SunReaders®, which are sunglasses that double as reading glasses. If you’re not sure what your reading glasses needs are, don’t sweat it! This resource can help you discover what lens strength is right for you and if you need reading glasses in the first place.

Along with the many technical advances made to glasses throughout history, one of the most recent developments includes blue light glasses. Blue light glasses are specifically made to help filter at least 30% of potentially harmful blue light* from digital screens, helping to fight the temporary effects of digital eye strain.

Here at Foster Grant, we offer a variety of styles and solutions of blue light glasses. From our General Blue Light Glasses, our Digital Reading Glasses, to our Gamer Glasses collection, each pair helps block potentially harmful blue light* from digital devices. Plus, with our wide selection of styles, you can look great doing it!

A Good Vision: Glasses for Everyone

The history of when glasses were invented is rich and traces across the entire world. From Rome to Venice to China, the characters involved in the development of glasses and their frames are many. But the development doesn’t stop there.

As we learn more about how the eyes work, we’re always discovering how glasses can improve. That’s why we keep our fashions forward and our glasses up to date.


Disclaimer: The information and reference materials on this website are intended solely for the informational purposes of the reader. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems and does not replace the advice, diagnosis or treatment of an optician or medical professional. No representations are made and no responsibility is assumed for the information contained on this website. Contact your optician or a medical professional directly if you have any questions concerning your eye health or the information contained on this website.

*Potentially harmful blue light refers to the 415-455 nanometer range of the visible light spectrum. The percentage represents the average amount of potentially harmful blue light filtered at 5 nanometer increments in this range. With the exception of Eye Gear™ Gaming Glasses, covered under U.S. Pat. No. 8,360,574. Other U.S. and foreign patents pending.

Every day more than 164 million adults in the United States put on a pair of glasses. We often don’t think about the history behind our glasses when we put them on in the morning. However, if we take a closer look at the history of glasses, a fascinating and rich tale unravels.

Modern glasses have evolved into dozens of different types of eyewear, from reading glasses and blue light glasses to sun protection and more. But when were glasses invented, and who do we have to thank for this daily item we so often take for granted?

Let’s take a trip through history to find out.

The History of Glasses

Learning the history of glasses not only develops an appreciation for objects we use every day, but it helps us understand how they evolved into the eyewear we know and love today. Below, we break down the history of glasses.

Let's Start at the Beginning

While the definite first use of glasses in history is fuzzy, we first encounter the use of glasses in Ancient Rome. The playwright Seneca, who lived in the First century AD, is credited with using a glass lens to magnify words on a page. This is how he read the ancient books and scrolls of Rome.

The magnifying device he used was a glass globe filled with water, but it helped enlarge small text and allowed him to read more clearly. We have records that this magnifying glass trend continued through history and helped monks and other elders to read ancient scrolls!

Rome is also attributed to having invented the first pair of sunglasses. Pliny the Elder recorded how Emperor Nero of Rome used bejeweled spectacles with tinted lenses to watch the gladiator games. However, it’s likely that these were to signify wealth rather than block the sun or reduce glare like modern-day sunglasses do.

Early Development

While magnifying devices were used to read, and sunglasses made of transparent stones were used in 12th century China, glasses themselves weren’t used until the 13th century in Italy. Glass blowers in Venice are responsible for creating the first-ever glasses lenses with frames around them. The glasses frames were made of bone, metal, or leather that wrapped around the head and balanced on the nose.

We not only have records of the use of glasses in 13th century Venice, but we have art to depict it as well. In fact, there is a theory that Roger Bacon, a friar, was one of the first to suggest glasses. Others point to Alessandro Della Spina of Florence.

The painting "Portrait of the Cardinal Hugh de Provence” by Tommaso da Modena in 1352 depicts a group of monks using eyeglasses to read and write their manuscripts in a scriptorium.

These glasses were able to magnify words, just like the Romans and medieval Monks used them, but it wasn’t until four centuries later that corrective lenses were thought up. In the 17th century, these lenses developed further and are closer to the glasses we wear today.

Further Development and Corrective Lenses

During the 17th century, glasses developed significantly. As glasses were introduced to more and more people, they developed into corrective lenses. In the 17th century, concave lenses and convex lenses were already being used in eyeglasses. Because of how each type of lens manipulates rays of light, concave lenses help people who are nearsighted, and convex lenses help those who are farsighted.

One of the most formative characters in this chapter is Benjamin Franklin, inventor and Founding Father of America. He is known for inventing the bifocals in 1784, glasses that have two distinct lens strengths in the upper and lower portions.

Further development to corrective lenses took place in 1825 when Sir George Airy is credited for making the first pair of cylindrical lenses that could correct astigmatism or blurry vision when looking near or far. From this point on, glasses were developed into what we know today.

Not long afterward, John McAllister would open the very first optical shop in America (specifically Philadelphia). Several years later, sunglasses became a trend that swept through the 1930s and continued to today. Luckily, glasses stores across the country are much more accessible. Find a retailer near you here.

However, there’s more to glasses than just lenses. What about when glasses frames were invented and how they developed through history?

Let’s take a closer look!

What About Frames?

Now that we’ve taken a look at how lenses developed throughout history, from pieces of glass that magnified words to shaped lenses that could correct vision, let’s take a look at the history of eyewear frames.

In the 17th century, Spanish craftsmen developed silk ribbons attached to glasses lenses that held them in place. These ribbons looped around the ears and were a fashion statement and declaration of wealth as much as they were for convenience.

Rather than loop ribbons over their ears, the Chinese did things differently. In China, it was common for people to secure glasses lenses with ribbons and then drape them over the tops of their ears with small weights on the bottom of the ribbons to keep them there.

A later common style was the pince-nez, which perched on the bridge of the nose.

Everything changed in the 18th century. London optician, Edward Scarlett, invented the first pair of glasses that went past the temples to metal ear hooks. This led to more rigid frames made of metal that fit like modern glasses do. From leather frames and silk ribbons to metal frames and now plastic, the history of glasses frames is rich too.

Glasses Today

Modern glasses have taken many strides from the first pairs of glasses ever used. Glasses were originally made with heavy glass, while most glasses today are made of plastic or polycarbonate. This change took place in the early 20th century and is not only safer and lighter but more resistant to scratches and impact than glass lenses are.

As history progressed, so did our understanding of how the eyes worked. When corrective lenses were invented, Sir Airy and Benjamin Franklin understood farsightedness and nearsightedness. However, it wasn’t until much later that prescription lenses, reading glasses strength, UV protection in sunglasses, and further developments took place.

Today, there are glasses options of all varieties, no matter what eye concerns you have.

We see the first appearance of corrective lenses around the 17th century, but it wasn’t until much later that reading glasses and lens magnifications were perfected. Now, there are reading glasses options for everyone, no matter what your strength needs are.

Here at Foster Grant, we offer reading glasses, Multi Focus™ lenses, and even SunReaders®, which are sunglasses that double as reading glasses. If you’re not sure what your reading glasses needs are, don’t sweat it! This resource can help you discover what lens strength is right for you and if you need reading glasses in the first place.

Along with the many technical advances made to glasses throughout history, one of the most recent developments includes blue light glasses. Blue light glasses are specifically made to help filter at least 30% of potentially harmful blue light* from digital screens, helping to fight the temporary effects of digital eye strain.

Here at Foster Grant, we offer a variety of styles and solutions of blue light glasses. From our General Blue Light Glasses, our Digital Reading Glasses, to our Gamer Glasses collection, each pair helps block potentially harmful blue light* from digital devices. Plus, with our wide selection of styles, you can look great doing it!

A Good Vision: Glasses for Everyone

The history of when glasses were invented is rich and traces across the entire world. From Rome to Venice to China, the characters involved in the development of glasses and their frames are many. But the development doesn’t stop there.

As we learn more about how the eyes work, we’re always discovering how glasses can improve. That’s why we keep our fashions forward and our glasses up to date.


Disclaimer: The information and reference materials on this website are intended solely for the informational purposes of the reader. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems and does not replace the advice, diagnosis or treatment of an optician or medical professional. No representations are made and no responsibility is assumed for the information contained on this website. Contact your optician or a medical professional directly if you have any questions concerning your eye health or the information contained on this website.

*Potentially harmful blue light refers to the 415-455 nanometer range of the visible light spectrum. The percentage represents the average amount of potentially harmful blue light filtered at 5 nanometer increments in this range. With the exception of Eye Gear™ Gaming Glasses, covered under U.S. Pat. No. 8,360,574. Other U.S. and foreign patents pending.