Looking at History
(through March 12, 2009)
The Dacotah Prairie Museum had new exhibit exploring the history of eyeglasses using the Museum’s extensive collection of vision aids. The exhibit was called “Looking at History."
No one really knows the inventor of the first pair of eyeglasses, although we know that glass, the main ingredient to vision wear, has been known about and worked since 2500BC. The Roman writer, Seneca, was said to have read “every book in Rome” by peering at them through a glass globe of water to produce magnification. He just couldn’t balance it on his nose.
The 11th century brought thinking and testing in the limitations of people’s vision and by the 1200s, a painting pictures a priest named Nicolas Bullet from an Abbey in France wearing spectacles to sign an agreement in 1282. Experimentation in glass for vision was embraced by Venice, the medieval city of glass, in the 1300s. Even in those early times, the wearing of glasses was seen as a symbol of wisdom.
By the 16th century, two eye lenses were rimmed with metal or bone and folded out to perch on the wearer’s nose. The Museum includes such as pair with two round lenses which fold out to be worn on the nose. Though Spain and other countries were experimenting with ribbons to be worn over the ears (it is said that even George Washington had a pair) many “glasses” were worn on gold chains around the neck or attached to the hair with a hair-pin. Both of these types are included in the display. Glasses held by a handle and folded like scissors were popular in England and a lovely pair is included along with opera glasses.
In China, eyeglasses were attached to a string of beads which was worn over the ear and held on with a weight at the end. A pair of glasses with pearls are included in the display. In 1730, London optician Edward Scarlett came up with a perfectly rigid set of side pieces to rest on the top of the ears. One of the included examples is a metal-rimmed set of eyeglasses in a metal case used around the Civil War era.
Metal “eye boxes” were used to protect glasses during wars as well as hard rubber frames, invented by J.J. Bausch, an immigrant from Germany, whose practical idea boomed during the war years. Joining in America with a new partner, the Bausch & Lomb Co. was born. A pair of early German glasses and the accompanying explanations in German can be seen.
Safety goggles were recognized as a protective precaution to safeguard eyesight early and a pair belonging to local inventor, J.L.W. Zietlow, is included along with one of his inventions. The advent the automobile was an occasion for the invention of “driving goggles” to keep wind, dust and general debris from the driver’s eyes. Several different types are shown in the exhibit.
The 21st century has seen glasses become a fashion accessory as well as a necessity and along with contact lens, they have improved the vision of untold millions.
To view past exhibits, click here.