The history of Glasses

Posted on: September 13, 2017

You could say it all started with a large bowl filled with water. Now, you may ask: “How exactly does a large bowl of water have anything to do with glasses?” Well, prepare to be entertained.

1000 C.E

A tutor named Seneca bragged to his emperor that he had read all of the books in Rome by viewing them through a glass bowl filled with water and that this setup magnified the letters and prints on the pages.

Thanks to Seneca, this introduced the idea of corrective eye lenses around 1000 C.E.
Instead of a bowl filled with water, a convex-shaped, flat-bottom glass sphere was laid on top of any reading material for people to use if they were having trouble reading. Most commongly used by older men. And yes, this funny looking item will be known as the first magnifying glass.

Late 1200s to 1300s

Years passed and the magnifying glass seemed to be all that was available. However, somewhere between 1268 and 1300, the first pair of corrective (convex) eyeglasses was brought to life by someone in Italy. What it looked like was basically two small magnifying glasses joined by a hinge that would sit on the nose’s bridge.


Commercial selling of these lenses then started in England during the 1600s. The first company to advertise them was the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers. The company’s slogan for the item was “A blessing to the aged” as they were aiming to sell these glasses to the elderly.

1700s – 1800s

The breakthrough discovery during this time was a pair of concave glasses for nearsightedness. This specific creation was made for Pope Leo X, who suffered from being nearsighted. Now, we can say that both convex and concave glasses existed. The only problem with both pairs, though, was the fact that it would not stay on your face as there was nothing to support it.

So in 1730, Edward Scarlett, an optician based in London, created the first pair of glasses that would actually stay on your face. It featured rigid rods that were attached to the lenses. This pair would make wearing them easy as the rods were designed to sit on top of the wearer’s ears. Two decades later, James Ayscough, an eyeglasses designer refined the design of the arms and added hinges to the pair so that they can be folded. He then started adding colourful tints to his glasses as it could help improve vision.

Somewhere around the late 1700s, bifocal glasses were invented. While it is not known as to who invented them, they were made available for purchase. In fact, Benjamin Franklin himself purchased a pair. Now, come the 1800s and trifocals were invented. At this point, you can say the rest was history.

20th Century To Today

By the 20th century, all that really came about were different styles – most frames now were made of plastic as it is much lighter. While there were some slight additions to eyeglasses such as lens coating, the lenses themselves remain relatively the same.