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Glasses Throughout History: Looking Back

Eyeglasses in Edmonton Alberta

Many people take their glasses for granted. The seemingly simple tool does a lot for wearers, but has come a long way from its early beginnings. Two arms, two lenses, and what has evolved into many diverse fashion statements have taken years to become what we understand as spectacles today. Whether you have had your pair for years or just got your first prescription, a look back at history will make you appreciate your eyewear even more.

Need new glasses now? Visit The Optometrists’ Clinic Inc. to update, upgrade, or repair your eyeglasses in Edmonton. We are here for all your optical service needs from eye exams to prescription changes. The History of Eyewear to Eyeglasses Here are some of the major advancements and milestones that led to the popularity of eyeglasses as we know them today:

  1. Magnification: Understanding the impact of convex lenses on sight has been traced back to findings in Cairo from Alhazen, an Arabian mathematician, astronomer, and “Father of Modern Optics.” It is unclear how magnification was first discovered, but between 1000 and 1250, ‘reading stones’ were created to magnify text. Stone grinding led to these advancements, which were centralized in monasteries across Europe.

  2. Mobile Vision: The first pair of eyeglasses had a long way to go to become the hands-free, customized eyewear we currently use, but the first iteration has been traced back to Pisa, Italy, in approximately 1286. Two crude glass discs were connected to a copper frame and affixed to a handle. It is hypothesized that the first pair was conceived and created by a layperson, who was very secretive about their invention. They kept their advances a secret in hopes of earning more money. Eventually, word got out, and the earliest mention of glasses was recorded in Florence in 1306.

  3. Glass and Glasses: In regions where glass production was high, glasses were further developed through experimentation and advancements. Italy led the way and glasses were produced and sold in Florence by the mid-15th century. Knowledge of declining vision associated with aging was being discovered and documented, and different ‘strength’ lenses were being produced, effectively creating the first varieties of prescription glasses. Mass amounts of glasses were being produced and given as gifts, making exports to London profitable and popular for Florentines.

  4. 4. Reading Public, Reading Glasses: Once Gutenberg’s printing press was created, the 15th century made reading popular and necessitated glasses for many individuals. Lenses were cut from window pane glass and production in Germany increased, leading to a decrease in quality. The production of newspapers also helped to popularize glasses. In many countries, including Spain, Italy, and China, glasses became a symbol of intelligence and status.

  5. Comfort and Fashion: Materials from leather to tortoise shell and lenses that were tinted or served no function at all came in and out of fashion from the 15th to the 19th century. The handheld nature of early spectacles made them tiring and, at times, inconvenient to wear. Sometime in the mid-17th to early 18th century, arms were invented in London. They originally sat on the temples rather than resting on the ears.

Glasses today continue to evolve in terms of style, prescription wear, and technology. If you need an eye exam in Edmonton, or a new pair of eyeglasses, visit your optometrist today. The Optometrists’ Clinic Inc. welcomes new patients. Find your perfect eyeglasses with us. Contact us online or visit our convenient Edmonton eye clinics to schedule your appointment.


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