The earliest written record of the use of a lens for magnification dates back to the 1st century ad, when Seneca the Younger, one of Nero’s tutors, wrote: ‘Letters, however small and indistinct, are seen enlarged and more clearly through a globe or glass filled with water’. According to Pliny the Elder, the emperor Nero watched the gladiatorial games using a smaragdus - an emerald used as a corrective lens.
There is evidence that the ancient Egyptians used convex crystals for magnification long before this. Hieroglyphs dating from the 8th century bc make reference to glass meniscal (convex on one side, concave on the other) lenses.
No one is sure where or when the first spectacles, as we would recognise them today, were invented. Most evidence points to Italy and there are paintings from the 14th century of people wearing what look like modern spectacles.
In Venice and Florence, techniques for grinding and polishing glass had developed by the 13th century. The resulting, lentil-shaped glass disks that were manufactured became known as ‘lentils of glass’ or (from Latin) lenses. It wasn't until 1604 that astronomer Johannes Kepler first correctly explained how lenses actually work.
The first recognisable glasses were ‘rivet’ spectacles that hinged in the middle like scissors. The arms or ‘temples’ of glasses that rest on the ears were introduced in the 1730s.
Benjamin Franklin is commonly cited as being the inventor of bifocals. He certainly popularised them and is the first person known to have independently developed them.
Rose-coloured glasses are never made in bifocals. Nobody wants to read the small print in dreams.
The Chinese used to wear dark glasses originally to ward off evil spirits.
George Malcolm Stratton was a psychologist at the University of California who set out to learn what would happen if he went about his daily routine wearing glasses that reversed all images onto his retina. At first he was wildly disorientated, but he persevered, and after eight days his eyes had adjusted to the change and his brain perceived the world as it had been before he donned the specs.
After the experiment, Stratton reported that the world never really felt normal while he was wearing the glasses, his body parts in particular feeling odd. On removing the glasses, it took a good few hours for everything to return to normal.
The eyes of Dr T. J. Eckleburg are blue and gigantic... They look out of no face, but instead from a pair of enormous yellow spectacles.
Victorian polymath Francis Galton invented underwater spectacles so he could read in the bath.
Stones from the beryl family – from which we get emeralds - were once used to make spectacles; the the German for glasses is brille.
Schubert slept with his glasses on in case he got an idea during the night.