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A Fascinating Historical Time Line on Lenses

A Fascinating Historical Time Line on Lenses

Lenses have evolved over the years starting with the earliest lenses being made of emeralds. How's that for a fashion statement! Take a journey through time and discover the people and events that have brought us modern lenses.

60 A.D. - The renowned Roman Emperor Nero used emerald lenses to view gladiator games. Regardless of whether he could actually see better, his precious gem lenses became an instant, must-have fashion accessory among the upper classes. From togas to emerald lenses, perhaps Nero should also be remembered as one of Italy's earliest fashion trendsetters.

1284 to 1285 - While historians are not certain about who invented the actual spectacle device and when, they have been able to pinpoint the late 13th Century as the likely time-frame. Whether the mystery man behind one of the most imp active inventions of all time was a monk, scientist, jewelry artisan or layman, historians are certain of one fact -- he was an Italian!

1300 - History does, in fact, repeat itself. Counterfeiting, or lens bait and switch, has been occurring since the 14th century. Around 1300 A.D. in an attempt to stamp out corruption among its ranks and guarantee that eyeglass wearers received a quality product, the Venetian Glassmaker's Guild (the earliest known spectacle trade authority) imposed regulations prohibiting the use of glass lenses in place of the more valuable rock crystal.

1352 - Hardly considered a luxury item today, long ago in the 14th Century eyeglasses were an extravagant statement of wealth and power. In those days spectacles were worn only by either well-  educated, very rich noblemen or by the influential and extremely well-read Italian clergy. The artist-monk, Tommaso da Modena, aptly documented the church's privileged early use of spectacles in a 1352 fresco, in which he depicted an elderly churchman wearing glasses and hovering over an old manuscript.

1456 - The invention of the printing press was a pivotal turning point in eyeglass history. With the widespread printing of books the use of reading glasses began trickling down through the ranks of society, out of the wealthy households and monasteries and into the hands of the common people. Spectacles were on their way to becoming an important accessory in everyday life.

1623 - Far from a precise science, determining the right lens for the given eyeglass-wearer was as arduous a task as finding the only foot in the kingdom to fit the glass slipper. In the early 17th Century the Spanish invented the first graded lenses, significantly reducing the trial and error associated with trying on different lenses until, at last, one pair enabled the wearer to see better.

1700's - Until the 18th Century wearing spectacles was literally a balancing act -- of the nose! That was before a Parisian optician added short arms to a pair of spectacles that extended out to the temples. An English optician later carried the arm-style a step further to the ears, designing the world standard for spectacle frames.

1776 - In the late 1700's you practically had to be President to obtain a pair of eyeglasses in America! From one prominent American to another, astronomer David Rittenhouse gave a pair of reading glasses he personally crafted to the then-General George Washington. It's hard to lead the troops if you can't see where you're going!

1784 - Despite the popular belief that Benjamin Franklin invented the first bifocals, historical sources indicate that the concept of combining both distance and near lenses into one set of eyeglasses was invented earlier by at least one other man -- the English optician Samuel Pierce, around 1775.

1828 - While astigmatism may be a bizarre term, it is a common sight condition that affects a great many eyeglass wearers. Until John McAllister, Jr, a well-regarded Philadelphia optician, developed the first concave cylindrical lens to correct astigmatism in the early 19th century, people with the condition had little hope of seeing perfectly.

1841- As the first U.S. President to order eyeglasses, Andrew Jackson was a major public relations coup for an ophthalmologist whose waiting room became packed with wanna-be patients as a result.

1879 - Thomas Edison's invention of electric light provided a light source superior to gaslight, enabling people to read into the night hours without any noticeable eye strain.

1916 - World War I started, cutting off America's traditional lens sources in Europe and motivating a team called Bausch & Lomb to launch the first volume factory production of ophthalmic glass in the U.S.

1926 - The invention of television created as much a need for distance-seeing eyeglasses as the Gutenberg Printing Press had for reading or close-up seeing spectacles 470 years earlier.


Late 1940's
- Acrylic eyeglass lenses were invented in England and briefly introduced to the U.S. market after World War II as the industry's first promising attempt to offer consumers a lightweight plastic alternative to traditional heavy glass lenses. However, acrylic's inherent disadvantages - too brittle, easily scratched, and quick to discolour - made it an impractical glass substitute. Nevertheless, history will remember the material as the catalyst that inspired optical lens scientists to persevere until one day they would discover the ultimate lightweight plastic lens.

1962 - The Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company introduced CR-39, the eyeglass industry's first lightweight plastic lens. Although an ideal lightweight substitute for traditional glass lenses, this "conventional plastic" lens, as it came to be known, was as thick and as cosmetically unappealing as glass.

1972 - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration instituted the industry's first Drop Ball Test, mandating that all eyeglass lenses pass a minimum level of shatter-resistance to ensure public eye safety.

1983
- Lenses made of a new plastic material, called polycarbonate, were introduced to the marketplace by Gentex Corporation in the early 1980's. Their high 1.59 index of refraction made them the lightest and thinnest lenses available at the time. Also applauded for its seemingly bulletproof durability, polycarbonate appeared to possess all the attributes necessary for optical lens success, except good optics. But changes in the optical industry come slow and innovation is met with skepticism. It is only in recent years that polycarbonate use has grown in popularity due to its high impact resistance. Children and high-risk individuals, such as police and firemen, are often fitted with this lens when the risk of eye injury outweighs the optical disadvantages.

1987 - Optima Inc. launched HYPERINDEX® 1.60. A major industry breakthrough, Optima combined the three most sought-after eyeglass lens benefits - lightweight, ultra thin and truly distortion-free optics - into one lens product. Not only was the lens lightweight and very thin, it also delivered an unprecedented level of optical clarity when compared with other high index plastic materials. The lens dramatically improved the cosmetic appearance of the eyes and glasses and eliminated many common eyeglass complaints - the rainbow swim effect (associated with polycarbonate lenses), peripheral distortion, magnification and minification of objects and the bug eyes or coke bottle eyes look.

1990 - Optima Inc. introduced the industry's first high index progressive lens. Called the HYPERINDEX® 1.60 Progressive (no line bifocal), the lens provided patients who needed near-, mid- and far-range vision corrections combined into one lens, with a no line alternative. The lens also represented the thinnest, lightest and most optically advanced progressive technology on the market.

1992 - Optima created and introduced to the marketplace an innovative new eyeglass lens with a significantly higher 1.66 index of refraction. A measurement which dictated just how thin and light an eyeglass lens could be, the Optima HYPERINDEX® 1.66 lens surpassed industry standards by a wide margin. It was 45% thinner and lighter than conventional plastic, 50% thinner and 80% lighter than traditional glass, and 27% thinner and lighter than Optima's own 1.60 HYPERINDEX® brand.

1995 - To provide America's 78 million baby boomers with a high-tech solution to aging a bit more gracefully, Optima introduced the industry's first (and only) 1.66 progressive lens. Called HYPERVIEW®, the progressive 1.66 lens was manufactured using the same advanced computer "splines" technology as NASA's Space Shuttle. This revolutionary design eliminated the typical distortion bifocal wearers experienced as their eyes moved from one field of vision to the other and was up to 45% thinner and lighter than ordinary plastic lenses.

Fall 1996 - Realizing that most of America's 140 million eyeglass wearers were totally unaware of the giant technological leaps made in eyeglass lens technology, Optima launches the "Lens Sense" web-site. The site was designed as a consumer guide to educate the almost 80 million people still wearing thick, heavy and unflattering lenses about the new advances and dramatic benefits of new lens technology. 

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