If you can read this then you probably have good eyesight. If not, you might be enhancing your vision with contact lenses or eyeglasses as one of the 75% of Americans who wear them. Of that …
If you can read this then you probably have good eyesight. If not, you might be enhancing your vision with contact lenses or eyeglasses as one of the 75% of Americans who wear them. Of that percentage roughly 164 million of us wear eyeglasses.
The history of eyeglasses goes back to ancient Rome. They were the first to use glass to enlarge reading material. The glass was handheld over a page and acted like a magnifying glass. They did not read from what we call books.
Instead, they read from rolled up printing on papyrus. Centuries later, Jack Kerouac created his famous novel “On The Road” in a similar fashion. Legend has it that by typing 100 words a minute Kerouac wrote his ground-breaking novel in 3 weeks. He found that constantly placing paper in the typewriter was too time consuming. So, he typed on a continuous paper scroll that was an eye-popping 120 feet long.
The first wearable eyeglasses were developed in the 13th century for monks in Italy. Reading religious texts by candlelight while holding a piece of glass was too problematic. So, blown glass was placed in leather, wooden or bone frames and perched on the nose.
Eventually glass blowers discovered that creating different thicknesses led to better vision depending on a person’s eyesight. That opened the use of eyeglasses in Europe.
The next eye-opening development came into view in the 1700’s. Tired of having to hold the glasses or balancing them on the nose, inventors sought a solution. I consulted with Pierre Lorgnette author of the seminal book on eyewear, “Frame Up.” He informed me that there were many attempts to develop ways to make eyeglasses easier to wear. “Before somebody had the brilliant idea of fashioning frame extensions that rested on the ears there were a series of failed inventions. One example was attaching a painful clamp that gripped the nose. Another flop involved a piece of wire that wrapped around the head.”
One of the most popular eyeglasses was fashioned by Benjamin Martin in the late 1700’s. Known as Martin’s Margins these silver frames held round lenses that eliminated eyestrain. Centuries later, John Lennon of the Beatles made the round lens style popular. Perhaps his writing partner, Paul McCartney, wrote the song “I’m Looking Through You” for John’s new look.
Since so many had vision problems, eyeglasses went through many variations. Ben Franklin, taking a break from kite flying, invented bifocals by cutting in half two different strengths of lenses and attaching them in a frame. Another visionary invented foldable eyewear known as scissor frames that were easy to put in pockets. Eventually sunglasses, plastic lenses, and even changeable frames for the fashionistas became available.
For many of us there comes a time when we wake up one day and are unable to read the morning newspaper without holding it with a fully extended arm. Welcome to the world of reading glasses! As we age, the eye lens becomes less flexible making it difficult to focus on near objects.
Known as presbyopia, most of us handled the situation by focusing on stocking up on reading glasses. Eventually tiring of forgetting them at home, we bought many pairs. I had them in every winter coat, book bag and desk drawer. Owning many pairs are so common that the big box stores now package them in bunches.
But I no longer need reading glasses. My optometrist introduced me to monovision which is a method of prescribing two different strengths of lenses that allow me to live without reading glasses. It really works!
The only problem is what to do with my 14 pairs of reading glasses. Maybe I will construct a Calder-type mobile and call it “Making a Spectacle of Myself.”
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