history of sunglasses

Sunglasses today are so much more than just for protecting our eyes, they are also a fashion statement and worn by almost everyone. But this trend did not happen overnight. Sunglasses have been around for a very long time. So whom exactly do we have to thank for sunglasses? Let’s look back at the history of sunglasses and see just how far lens technology has come.

Sunglasses can be traced all the way back to prehistoric times when Inuit people wore flattened walrus ivory glasses with slits in them to block reflected rays of the sun. By the 12th century in China, sunglasses were made out of lenses that were flat panes of smoky quartz. While these sunglasses did not actually protect them from UV rays, they did protect their eyes from glare. It’s also said that Chinese courts wore them during interrogations to hide their facial expressions and intimidate witnesses, much in the same way modern poker players find utility in shades beyond the sun.

In the 18th century, James Ayscough began to experiment with tinted lenses in spectacles. He believed that by changing the color of the lenses to a blue/green tint, he could correct vision impairments. He was unaware at the time that this tint is actually one of the best for protecting your eyes from the sun’s rays.

The modern sunglass that we know and love today became popular in the 20th century because Hollywood stars began wearing them to shield their eyes from studio lights. Sam Foster introduced them to all of America in 1929 through inexpensive mass-production.

In 1936, Edwin H. Land, the founder of the Polaroid Corporation, invented polarized sunglasses. This new lens technology became public a year later and sunglasses were at last a health aid to eyes as well as fashionable!

Polarized American military aviators were designed during World War II. These anti-glare sunglasses were issued at no charge to fliers and by 1937 people everywhere could buy the aviator style sunglasses. Fast forward to the 1970s, fashion designers and Hollywood stars could be seen wearing sunglasses everywhere.

Today, UV protection has just about become an industry standard and polarized options are readily available. There are also many types of tints available and different styles and colors that are released constantly! In our culture, sunglasses are an essential accessory to our lifestyles and even fashion choices. Because of this, it doesn’t look like sunglasses will be losing popularity anytime soon.

Image of Inuit goggles is from Julian Idrobo and under the Creative Commons Share Alike License.

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