The first sunglasses were “made” by Roman Emperor Nero to watch gladiator competitions. These weren’t actual sunglasses, but polished light emerald green gems held up on the ancient kings’ noses. The actual invention of sunglasses came later around sometime between 1268 and 1289. Around the twelfth century, sunglasses had been used by judges in the courts in China. They were not worn to block harmful sunlight as they are today, but to hide the judges’ facial expression just so their choices won’t be given away. Created in Italy in 1430, prescription sunglasses were quickly picked up and worn by these Chinese judges, too.
In the mid 18th century, a guy named James Ayscough developed blue and green corrective lenses that began the use of sunglasses for corrective purposes.
Difficulties of keeping sunglasses in place have always pushed the evolution of frames, which were first made from leather, bones and later materials that we are more familiar with, like metal and plastic. Sidepieces were first silk strips that went around the ears. The Chinese later used ceramic to replace these ribbon-like silk strips. In 1730, solid sidepieces were invented by Edward Scarlett. Benjamin Franklin’s invention of bifocal lenses followed just that in 1780.
By the 20th century, the utilization of sunglasses had been mainly for protecting the eyes from the harmful sunlight. Starting from 1929, an American called Sam Foster began mass-producing sunglasses. Thanks to Foster’s contribution, sunglasses started getting popular among ordinary people. At the time, you could see beaches of people wearing their pairs of sunglasses during their weekly family vacations. Sunglasses became hip. However, their love affair with celebrities and movie stars didn’t start until the 70s. Aviator sunglasses became extremely popular during the period as celebrities and superstars chose them to make fashion statements and kept distance from their fans and the public, a scene still very much present today.
As the technology develops, sunglasses have evolved tremendously in their look, function and making. We have gone from holding green gems up in front of our eyes as a way to watch a competition to Oakley’s 2004 sunglasses with digital audio players built into bifocal lenses. What the future holds for sunglasses? God only knows.
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