Short history of sunglasses

The first sun shades

It is believed that judges in China used the earliest form of sunglasses in the 14th century to hide their facial expressions from those present in court when evaluating evidence. Their intention was to keep the verdict in secrecy until the end of the trial. The lenses for these glasses were made of quartz with a smoky appearance; neither did they protect vision, nor could they minimize the reflected sun’s glare outdoors.

Sunglasses for vision improvement

In 1430, the Italians developed lenses that were capable of correcting vision. These lenses were introduced in China and darkened, though they remained restricted to the court room as they still could not be of use elsewhere. In the middle of the 18th century, James Ayscough experimented with differently colored lenses on sunglasses; tinted blue-green in particular. These offered better correction of vision defects for the wearer. However, they were still ineffective as protection from the sun’s glare and other bright lights, which could also damage the eyes.

Sunglasses offering this much-needed protection from the harsh and harmful sunlight were invented in the 20th century. These yellow and brown tinted sunglasses quickly became popular during a mass syphilis attack in Europe, which caused vision sensitivity to light.

Popularity of Sunglasses

In 1929, Sam Foster targeted the sale of his sunglasses at the boardwalks of popular beaches. These were strategically placed to overlook the beach and were filled with joggers and walkers out in the sun, who were potential buyers in need. Foster established the Foster Grant Company and sold his first pair of sunglasses in Atlantic City in New Jersey. From here, sunglasses became a top craze in the U.S., which has continued to this day.

Role of Sunglasses in Military

In the 1930s, the Army Air Corps ordered Bausch & Lomb to design specialized sunglasses for their pilots who were suffering from glare and consequent impaired vision at high altitudes. The physicists and opticians at Bausch & Lomb worked together for the solution and came up with lenses tinted a dark-green to absorb wavelengths in the yellow band of the light spectrum. These sunglasses were highly beneficial to the pilots and the tinted lens got nicknamed the G15 lens.

Still in the 1930s, Edwin H. Land the founder of the Polaroid Company, created lenses with a polarized filter, which could block the horizontally-oriented light rays reflected from a smooth surface, or ‘glare’, such as from calm water, a flat road or snow. In 1936, Ray Ban added these polarized lenses to their sunglasses and a large aviator-style frame was designed. This slightly drooping frame was big enough to cover the entire perimeter of the eyes, thereby providing good protection to the pilots as they looked downwards at the instrument panel on the airplane. These newly designed sunglasses were distributed among the Air Corps staff in preparation for World War II. A year later, they were put up on offer to the general public and Ray Ban profited from its surging popularity.

Sunglasses in Fashion

In 1960, Foster Grant revolutionized the sunglasses industry through its advertising campaign that projected an ultra-cool and trendy image of their sunglasses, not only to wear – but also to own and carry around. Sunglasses became an international fashion statement and people without eye prescriptions started using them frequently. In the following decade, branded sunglasses were sported everywhere by celebrities from Hollywood and from the fashion and music worlds, even indoors.

As time went by, scientific studies brought the adverse effects of sunlight on the human eye to the public’s attention. Sunglasses were proven as an effective shield against sunlight and the harmful rays of the sun. Towards the end of the 20th century, a ten-fold boom was experienced in the sunglass industry because of their capability to protect the eyes from the UVA and UVB rays of the sun and the effects of glare. The lenses were manufactured from a light-weight yet durable plastic material similar to the one used in eyeglasses, while the frames were designed in all colors, shapes and sizes from a combination of plastic and metal. The color and tint of the lenses was also varied; this wide range increased their popularity as a style statement.

Modern age of sunglasses

Prescription sunglasses are equally fashionable and there is a pair to match each person’s needs, lifestyle and personality. Sunglasses have definitely come a long way since they were used in the days of the ancient Chinese judges. Though they still come in handy to hide the wearer’s emotions, this is more for a mystery appeal rather than secrecy.

Technological advances in the 21st century have taken sunglasses to a new level. In 2004, Oakley developed a line of sunglasses called Thump which had an integrated digital audio player. Another relatively new fad is transition lenses or photo-chromatic lenses, which adapt to changes in light intensity by changing their color; this protects the eyes and allows better vision when exposed to bright lights. Anti-fog coated lenses, shatter-proof lenses and scratch-proof lenses have also been designed. People are getting more conscious of environmental and health hazards, so the future of sunglasses looks bright.

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