How Did the Spectacles Originate?
Around 1000 A.D., the first vision aid was invented, called a reading stone, which was a glass sphere that was laid on top of the material to be read that magnified the letters. Around 1284 in Italy, Salvino D’Armate is credited with inventing the first wearable eye glasses. The indigenous American inventor Benjamin Franklin invented bifocal spectacles in 1784.
He was getting old, and was having trouble seeing objects both close up and at a distance. He grew so tired of switching two different pairs of spectacles, so he devised a way to have both types of lenses fit into a single frame, The distance lens was placed at the top, and the up-close lens was placed at the bottom. Bifocal spectacles are made this way even today.
The earliest pictorial evidence for the use of eyeglasses is Tommaso da Modena’s 1352 portrait of the cardinal Hugh de Provence reading in a scriptorium. Another early example would be a depiction of eyeglasses found north of the Alps in an altarpiece of the church of Bad Wildungen, Germany, in 1403.
These early glasses had convex lenses that could correct both hyperopia (farsightedness), and the presbyopia that commonly develops as a symptom of aging. It was not until 1604 that Johannes Kepler published the first correct explanation as to why convex and concave lenses could correct presbyopia and myopia.
Early frames for glasses consisted of two magnifying glasses riveted together by the handles so that they could grip the nose. These are referred to as “rivet spectacles”. The earliest surviving examples were found under the floorboards at Kloster Wienhausen, a convent near Celle in Germany; they have been dated to circa 1400.
Despite the increasing popularity of contact lenses and laser corrective eye surgery, glasses remain very common, as their technology has improved. For instance, it is now possible to purchase frames made of special memory metal alloys that return to their correct shape after being bent. Other frames have spring-loaded hinges.
Either of these designs offers dramatically better ability to withstand the stresses of daily wear and the occasional accident. Modern frames are also often made from strong, light-weight materials such as titanium alloys, which were not available in earlier times.