Did Ray Ban Really Invent Aviator Sunglasses – Part Three of Our Investigation

In Part One (link) and Part Two (link) we covered 19th Century hinged bicyclist’s shields early hinged motoring glasses, and how practically every pair of shield style aviator sunglasses descends from them.

But what, you might ask, about fixed bridge aviator sunglasses?

Well…

It’s probably best to go back to the mid-19th Century for a look at the first industrial safety glasses in order to get an idea of the style’s evolution. They differed from ordinary spectacles of the period by virtue of having larger lenses that were clear and non-prescriptive.

The earliest type of safety glasses, Germany circa 1850

The earliest type of safety glasses, Germany circa 1850

Until these were developed eyewear in the West had small lenses. These, in fact, were the first “big” eyeglass frames.

The larger lenses provided some protection against flying particles. Eventually safety glasses with screens for lenses, all kinds of side shields and other goodies would be developed, which provided better protection. We’ll take a look at them sometime. But today we’re focusing on aviator sunglasses.

A main distinguishing feature of the aviator sunglasses is they have two bridges: a conventionally placed bridge and a second bar connecting the two lenses near the browline.

In a wire frame with large lenses, the second bridge is needed to keep the frame stable and keep the eyewires holding the lenses from bending in relation to each other.

This second bridge was first seen in the safety glasses of the early 20th Century.

Cobalt lens furnace glasses with unusual bridge, USA circa 1920s

Cobalt lens furnace glasses with unusual bridge, USA circa 1920s

Around the same time sunglasses with two fixed bridges were developed for motoring. These, in fact, looked more or less like the aviator sunglasses we know.

Early motoring glasses, predecessors to aviator sunglasses, circa 1910.

Early motoring glasses, predecessors to aviator sunglasses, circa 1910.

In fact the basic “aviator” shape was seen in a wide variety of motoring sunglasses of the early 20 Century.

Early aviator sunglasses with two tone lenses, circa 1915.

Early aviator sunglasses with two tone lenses, circa 1915.

So basically, what most would consider aviator sunglasses have been around for well over 100 years.

Next week we’ll take a look at the first sunglasses ever commissioned by the U.S. Army Air Corp. And no, they weren’t Ray Bans…

Links to the next two installments of this series can be found below:

Part 4

Part 5

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