A Fascinating Look Into The History Of Eyeglasses

The specifics surrounding the invention of eyeglasses are unclear. Some experts believe eyeglasses have been around since ancient civilizations, while others think that they were first designed in the late 11th century. While no one knows for sure who invented the first pair of eyeglasses, their history weaves a fascinating tale. Continue reading to learn more:

Reading Stones

The very first tool invented to improve a person's vision were reading stones. These were a primitive version of today's magnifying glass. It started with Roman tragedian Seneca, who lived between 4BC and 65AD. He used a glass globe filled with water to magnify the written word so he could read all the books in Rome. At the same time, monks were using glass spheres to read. Not too long after, 13th century Venetian glass blowers began creating reading stones of solid glass. These reading stones were placed into hand-held, single frames made of wood or horn. They were very similar to the magnifying lenses still used today.

Magnifying Lenses

The next step in the evolution of eyeglasses comes in the form of magnifying lenses, which were used for reading. Around 1285-1289, Italian monks are said to have produced the first form of eyeglasses as we know them today. There were made of two small magnifying glass lenses that were set into metal, bone, or leather, and were balanced on the bridge of one's nose. Some historians believe these early magnifying lenses were invented by craftsmen in Pisa or Venice. Either way, not many people doubt that the first eyeglasses came from these small magnifying lenses worn in Italy.


Spectacles are eyeglasses with a frame and sidebars that rest on top of a person's ears to keep them in place, while eyeglasses didn't have sidebars. Today, most people people only use the term eyeglasses. Since many older people had trouble seeing clearly to read, the popularity of spectacles continued to grow. As the 1400s came along, Florence, Italy was the frontrunner of the eyeglasses revolution as they became the leader in production, sale, and innovation of high-quality eyeglasses. Soon, these quality products were being shipped to other parts of Europe. Eyeglasses and spectacles were considered to be a necessity, no matter what level of society the wearer fell into.

Pince-Nez Spectacles

Over the next few centuries, eyeglasses continued to evolve. Pince-nez eyeglasses became a fashion statement among men and women. These lenses were designed to sit upon the bridge of the nose and were kept in place by exerting a small amount of pressure on the nose. Other types of eyeglasses used during this time period had a handle on the side so they could be held in front of a person's eyes. Both of these types of eyeglasses were made of quartz lenses. Then, in 1727, a London optician named Edward Scarlett invented straight and sturdy side pieces that rest on top of the ears, which is the kind of eyeglasses most people use today.

Additional important dates in the history of eyeglasses:

  • In 1784, Benjamin Franklin invented the first pair of bifocal lenses because he was tired of having to switch between reading and distance glasses.

  • The monocle was first introduced in the 18th century, but it wasn't until the 19th century that it became popular. Monocles were very popular in Russia and Germany.

  • The first lens invented to correct astigmatism appeared in 1825, manufactured by a British astronomer named George Airy.

So the next time you're at an eye care appointment and you have been advised to get glasses for the first time, or you've been wearing glasses for years, take a moment to stop and think about the eyeglasses of times gone by. Also, consider breaking out a few facts from this article to spark conversation with your optometrist during your eye exam. (For more questions on eye care, contact a clinic such as DC Eye Associates)