Origins of ordinary things: Sunglasses

On a hot and sunny day, it is helpful to shield your eyes so that you do not strain them to see. This can be done with the use of sunglasses, popularly known as shades.

During prehistoric time, and before protective eyewear was invented, people shielded their eyes from the sun by wearing narrow flattened ivory slits. This is according to Wikipedia, an encyclopaedia.  

It was in the 12th Century that the first semblance of sunglasses as they are known today was invented. According to the Glasses History website, the eyewear was made from smoked quartz in China and was accessible only to the rich. For example, Chinese judges used them to hide their facial expressions while questioning witnesses and the accused. One limitation of the 12th Century sunglasses is that they couldn’t in fact protect eyes from ultraviolet rays of the sun.

According to Frames Direct, an eyewear company, some experiments with tinted lenses were made by scientists such as English optician James Aycough during the 18th Century with the hope that this type of eyewear would be helpful in correcting vision impairments. Thus, people started wearing the coloured lenses mostly for medical reasons. By 19th Century, yellow, amber and brown glasses were being used by people suffering from syphilis since the disease resulted in light sensitivity. Still, the sunglasses could not fully protect the eyes.

Ray-Ban, an eyewear company is credited with creating the first sunglasses that could fully filter out ultraviolet light. They used lens technology developed by American scientist and inventor Edwin H. Land to achieve this. This is according to the Sunglass Museum.

During the early 20th Century more protective sunglasses containing substances which could block ultraviolet rays were developed. They were popularised by American actors and actresses who wanted to protect their eyes from bright studio lights. In 1929, mass production began.

Over the years, and with technological advancements, a lot of improvements have been made in the design and function of sunglasses. For instance, according to Idea Finder, a knowledge resource, Oakley, an eyewear company, made sunglasses with built-in digital audio player in 2004.

Apart from protecting the eyes, sunglasses are popular for making wearers look chic. Companies in the business know this and they are always working on designing stylish products that will appeal to people in different age and gender demographics.

And for some wearers, the actual use of sunglasses is completely lost on them and they wear them only to make fashion statements. That’s why some people buy sunglasses at a high price because they have been branded as “designer.”

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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