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Did Pilgrims Wear Glasses?

November 26, 2015

It’s that wonderful time of the year again: Thanksgiving will soon be upon us. That means family, fun, and all the food you can eat!

But at its core, Thanksgiving is about appreciating what you have. So, this year, if you’re a person with poor natural eyesight, give thanks for the advancements that have given us glasses, contacts, and advanced corrective surgical procedures. And check out this quick history of vision correction to learn what you’d have to do if you were born centuries ago!

Did Pilgrims Wear Glasses?

When we think of the Pilgrims, we imagine buckled hats, black breeches, large white collars and cuffs. But could they have been wearing glasses?

The answer is: of course! Eyeglasses had been around for nearly 400 years by the time the Mayflower landed at Plymouth.

The History of Glasses

The first evidence we have of people using glass to strengthen their sight dates back to the 1st century CE, when Seneca the Younger explained how folks could use a globe or glass filled with water to see small lettering. For the next thousand years, image magnification progressed through reading stones and glass spheres.

The creation of the first pair of spectacles dates to sometime around 1286 in Italy, by an unknown inventor. Over the next few hundred years, these eyeglasses saw changes that allowed them to correct even more vision problems, like myopia, hyperopia, and presbyopia (nearsightedness, farsightedness, and deteriorating vision).

However, they were still nothing like the ones we have today. For one, early models didn’t have sides! Wearers of glasses had to tilt their heads back or hold the frame to the bridges of their noses to keep them from falling off of their faces. And they weren’t generally associated with the common man. People who wore glasses were usually scholars or the elderly.

By the time of the Pilgrims, eyeglass technology was still limited, but had become widely available. In fact, by the 17th century, there were dozens of spectacle makers throughout Europe crafting and spreading the technology of corrective vision to those who needed it. While we don’t commonly imagine the Pilgrims with glasses, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary for someone to have brought a pair along with them on their journey to the New World.

In the mid to late 18th century, another great icon of American history, Benjamin Franklin, helped bring a new advancement to vision correction: bifocal lenses. These lenses allowed people to use only one pair of spectacles for seeing both near and far with clarity.

Since then, methods of enhancing vision have developed nearly as fast as most other technologies have. By the late 19th century, ophthalmologists were designing the first contact lenses that fitted to the tissue of the eye itself. The earliest models were made of heavy glass that could only be worn for a few hours at a time. Now an estimated 2 percent of the global population use contacts!

Today, thanks to the technology behind the Space Shuttle, we have LASIK vision correction surgery. Because the Shuttle needed to precisely dock with the Space Station and satellites, a tracking device was developed that is now used to dramatically improve the vision of millions of people every year.

In Conclusion

Corrective vision technology has definitely come a long way in the past 2,000 years! So, if your vision has been improved because of these advancements, give thanks this year for your ability to see exactly what food you want on your plate before you dig in.

Happy Thanksgiving from OCLI!



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