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Sunglasses – I am more than what you see!

Engineering in History

The History Of Sunglasses

Contrary to what one might assume, the history of sunglasses didn't derive solely from the desire to shield the eyes from the sun. Much like one of their alternatives uses today, the first documented purpose of sunglasses was to shield facial expressions instead of sunlight.

Who Invented Sunglasses?

The Italians may lay claim to the invention of eyeglasses, but the Inuits and ancient Chinese can take credit for inventing sunglasses. In the 12th century Chinese sunglasses were made from panes of smoky quartz used to dim the light. Inuits used walrus ivory to to create goggles with small slits to peer through. Sunglasses similar to what we wear today can be traced back to 18th century English optician James Ayscough, who originally created spectacles with tinted lenses, which he thought could improve vision.

When Did Sunglasses Become Popular?

A milestone in the history of sunglasses occurred in 1929 when Foster Grant founder Sam Foster developed the first affordable sunglasses made for mass production, possible only with the advent of injection molding technology. Foster sold sunglasses on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and his products soon gained widespread popularity in America. But those early sunglasses did not possess the technology to fully protect the eyes. The company continued to grow in popularity in the 1960s, with their "Who's That Behind Those Foster Grants?" campaign, which popularized the sunglasses among Hollywood celebrities.

When Were Aviators Invented?

Following the launch of Foster Grant sunglasses, in the 1930s the Army Air Corps commissioned Rochester-based Bausch & Lomb to develop a sunglass lens specifically to safeguard pilots' eyes from glare. Bausch & Lomb created a sunglasses-specific company called Ray-Ban (short for banning sun rays), which in turn created aviator-style sunglasses made for WWII pilots. Ray-Ban used the polarized lens technology created by Edwin H. Land, co-founder of Polaroid. This union essentially locked down the sunglasses market for the balance of the 20th century with the advent of the anti-glare Aviator. These iconic sunglasses, the first to filter out ultraviolet light, were soon made available to the public, gaining popularity when General Douglas MacArthur made a public appearance wearing a pair in the Philippines during WWII.

Sunglass Lens Technology

Through the mid to late 1900s, sunglasses continued to grow in popularity. Movies, musicians, and politicians who wore sunglasses in the public eye created a widespread consumer interest, and several other sunglass companies began to develop. The science of sunglass technology continued to grow as well, as other features of mass-produced sunglasses began to materialize, including anti-reflective and anti-fog coatings, shatter- and scratch-resistant lenses, UV protection, and more.


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