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When Were Glasses Invented?

When Were Glasses Invented?

Author: Anna Barden 


History of Glasses 

The history of glasses stems from ancient Rome, where the magnifying glass was first invented.  

The curious minds of this era discovered that they could alter the refraction of light* by manipulating glass pieces through which the light passed. When light moved through glass positioned above a book or manuscript, it magnified smaller text and made it easier to see and read.  

This discovery paved the way for the development and evolution of corrective lenses. Here’s a look at the history of glasses, when and where they were invented, and how the technology has changed over time. 

*Refraction is a process in which light bends as it moves through different objects, changing its direction.  

Who Invented Glasses? 

The first pair of corrective lenses is credited to an inventor named Abbas Ibn Firnas. Experts believe the invention of these “reading stones” (a version of magnifying glasses) took place in the ninth century.  

Eyeglass technology has been updated by several innovators since this early time period. And progress is still being made today.  

When Were Glasses First Commonly Used? 

In 13th-century Italy, glasses were mostly used by monks to review and transcribe manuscripts. But they became more mainstream when the Renaissance took place. In fact, many paintings and works of art from this era feature people using glasses.  

Rather than lenses held within frames, most of the “eyeglasses” were just two lenses held in front of a person's eyes. Sometimes monks would also wear a pair of pince-nez glasses (the French term for “pinch nose”), which rested directly on the nose with the help of a nose clip. 

Eventually, lenses were banded together by leather, wood, and other materials, allowing them to rest over the ears. These “hands-free” frames are still used in the present day.  

It took some time for people across Europe to gain access to a pair of glasses though. Aside from monks, they were initially used by the rich because they represented education and prosperity — two luxuries that weren’t available to everyone. During this time, spectacles were symbols of privilege and status. 

Once the Industrial Revolution took place, between the 1700s and 1800s, glasses became more readily available to people worldwide.  

History of Eyeglass Lenses 

From the earliest version of prescription lenses to advancements in lens technology, there have been several historical moments in the evolution of eyeglass lenses. 

Invention of Corrective Lenses 

Corrective lenses first appeared in Italy in the 1200s. Glassblowers during that time created glass lenses of varying densities. These lenses could either enhance or diminish the eye’s focusing power to address various vision issues. 

A few types of lenses came out of this discovery, including: 

  • Convex lenses (for farsightedness) – These are thick in the center and gradually become thinner towards the edges.  

  • Concave lenses (for nearsightedness) – These are thin in the center and gradually become thicker towards the edges.  

  • Cylindrical lenses (for astigmatism) – These are asymmetrical in thickness and thinness. 

Convex Lenses Led to Reading Glasses  

Presbyopia, also known as age-related farsightedness, is a common vision problem among adults aged 40 and older. The condition makes it difficult to see things up close, even if there are no issues with a person’s distance vision. But it can be corrected with a pair of reading glasses, which have lenses that address close-up vision.  


Reading glasses are an example of the previously mentioned convex lenses, designed for farsightedness. Conveniently, they are available without a prescription. 

Who Invented Bifocals? 

Bifocals were invented by Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s. Franklin halved two separate lenses and combined them to make a pair of multi-use lenses, now known as bifocals. These lenses are used to treat nearsightedness and farsightedness in a single pair of glasses. 

What About Scissor Spectacles? 

Scissor spectacles appeared around the same time as bifocals. They opened and closed on a hinge, the same way scissors operate. This technology made them compact enough to fit in a pocket, which was also quite convenient at the time. Pince-nez glasses, mentioned above, were also used in this era. 

When Were Photochromic Lenses Invented? 

In the history of glasses, photochromic lenses are perhaps one of the more advanced developments. These lenses are designed to adapt to varying levels of light. When you’re indoors, the lenses remain clear. But when you go outside into bright sunlight, they automatically darken.  

Stanley Donald Stookey and William H. Armistead of Corning Glass Works, Inc. created photochromic lenses in the 1960s. However, photochromic glasses weren’t available to purchase until the 1990s. 

Additional Lens Advancements 

Throughout the history of glasses and to this day, lens technology continues to evolve in eyewear. Below are a few additional features that have emerged since the earliest invention of eyeglasses: 

Varifocal (Progressive) Lens Technology 

Advancements in lens technology have also brought about the development of varifocal lenses, also known as progressives. Similar to bifocals, varifocal lenses correct multiple vision problems in just one lens. The top portion corrects distant vision, the middle section is for intermediate vision, and the bottom portion addresses near vision. (There are no visible lines between the changing powers!) 

If you need reading glasses and correction for distant vision, varifocal lenses may be a great option. 

Lens Coatings 

One of the most detailed innovations in eyeglass lenses is special coatings. Glasses wearers can benefit from scratch-resistant, anti-reflective, and anti-fog lens coatings, as well as UV-protective lens treatments. 

Various lens coatings can be useful for many day-to-day activities, from sports to driving and more.  

Function vs. Fashion 

In the early days of glasses history, the goal was to create purposeful lenses so that people could see clearly from up close or far away. Once the essential functions were covered, fashion began to play a role. Glasses went from basic shapes and materials to trendy styles and lightweight frames. 

The evolution of fashion in eyewear is something that continues today — and in some cases, the change in what’s considered “fashionable” happens quickly. Some frame styles that were popular even 10 years ago are no longer the “it frames.” And styles in vogue 20 years ago are now making their way back into the fashion spotlight. 

With so many advances and shifts in modern glasses trends, people have an array of options for their eyewear. The availability of glasses has also become more widespread, and consumers can order them online with the touch of a button.  

The development of spectacles throughout the history of glasses (and in the years to come) has made it possible for people to achieve vision correction and feel fashionable while doing so. Whether you prefer a classic round frame or a trendy style that makes a statement, you can find your perfect pair. 



  1. How eyeglasses work and a history of glasses. All About Vision. September 2019.† 
  2. When were glasses invented. January 2022.† 
  3. Reading glasses: How they help with up-close vision. All About Vision. February 2019.†  
  4. Progressive lenses: No-line multifocals for a younger you. All About Vision. February 2019.† 
  5. 4 common lens coatings for glasses. All About Vision. February 2019.†  
  6. Presbyopia: What causes it and how to treat it. All About Vision. February 2019.†  
  7. When were photochromic lenses developed? All About Vision. March 2020.†  

The sources listed here have been provided for informational purposes only. The citation of a particular source does not constitute an endorsement or approval of EssilorLuxottica products, services, or opinions by such source.  

Like Foster Grant,, All About Vision, and AAV Media, LLC are affiliates of EssilorLuxottica.