This week I thought that I would write a bit about eyeglasses and their history. Scotty and I both had the lasix/implant surgery done and it is simply amazing. For the first time that I can remember I can see far with my right eye. It really is so amazing, because my eyes were so bad that I had to start wearing glasses in the first grade. I actually remember seeing leaves on trees for the first time. Of course my left eye only sees close up and my right eye far. They call this kind of thing ‘mono-vision’. They somehow work together to see both near and far, and it drives the DMV people crazy……
So, on with a bit of history. In the 1250’s, a Franciscan Friar, William Rubuck, was traveling in Mongolia and noticed that some of the local people were wearing pieces of convex quartz in frames of tortoise shell (thought to be lucky). When he returned, he spoke to a fellow Franciscan, Roger Bacon, who published the idea with some drawings in his ‘opus majus’ in 1268.
The first real glasses appeared in Europe in that century. They were made without a bridge and had to perch precariously on the nose. By 1300, Venice, the glass making capital of the world, began exporting eyeglasses with convex lenses. And they really did help near-sighted people.
After the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century and the spread of print for reading, more and more older people needed glasses in order to be able to read. Lenses were made with varying degrees of intensity and were sold by peddlers on the street. A customer usually tried on glasses until he found some that worked.
Centuries earlier, Nero held a faceted jewel to his eye to help him see the games in his arena. Not until the 15th or early 16th century, however, did craftsmen grind concave lenses in varying thicknesses that helped the very myopic or near-sighted people to see. I myself remember seeing leaves on trees for the first time in second grade. Stories are told of those that had to put their faces very close to their plates in order to see their meals.
Benjamin Franklin was near-sighted, but as he got older, he found that he also had trouble reading. He got two pairs of glasses and switched back and forth. He finally got tired trying to keep up with two pairs of glasses, and invented the first bifocals by sawing off the top halves of his distance glasses and cementing them to the bottom halves of his reading glasses.
From time to time, there have been eras where glasses were considered to be status symbols and marks of intelligence. Often people wore empty frames to try to improve their social standing. In the 17th century, glasses became a fad in the Spanish Court. Ladies of the court wore them to look serious. Men of the court wore different sized glasses according to rank. As a man increased his fortune, the size of his glasses increased.
Today people use sunglasses as sun-shades. The Eskimos used slitted wood for sun protection. Sometimes people even wear sunglasses for a little mystery or glamour. Many celebrities, such as Elton John, have many pairs of glasses and sunglasses with unusually colored frames and lenses.
Other people hide their poor vision with the use of contacts. Contacts often give the wearer a better visual image as well as a better self-image. Glass contact lenses were tried in the 1880’s although Leonardo da Vinci had thought of them much earlier. The first contact lens covered the whole white part of the eye and was made for someone who had had an eyelid amputated. He wore that contact lens for 20 years. In the 1930’s, plastic lenses replaced the old uncomfortable glass ones. When smaller corneal lenses came onto the scene in the 1940’s and 1950’s, many more people started wearing contacts. The soft plastic used in heart-valve implants is the basis for all of today’s soft lenses.
Today, at least one of every two Americans wears glasses or contacts and most of these for myopic or near-sightedness. Few people realize that accurate vision is really a recent blessing.
So there you have it………..a bit about eyeglasses. God bless you.