Who really made those WWII aviator sunglasses? Part 5 of our investigation

Well it’s been quite a journey so far. We reviewed the history of aviator sunglasses from their roots in 19th Century bicyclist’s shields, up to the first Army Air Corps aviator sunglasses. Here are links to the previous posts:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Now it’s time to look at the classic style of aviator sunglasses we’re most familiar with. The “flying sun glasses (comfort cable)” standardized in November 1941.

The lenses were made to a joint standard shared by the U.S. Army Air Corps and the U.S. Navy. As a result the lens carried an “AN” (Army/Navy) specification number: the AN6531. The U.S. Government specified the shape of the lens and the color, which was initially a 50% green tint. This tint proved insufficient to protect pilot’s eyes from sun glare so this lens was superseded by the AN6531 Type 2 lens in rose smoke. Examples of both can be seen below:

The two frames to the left are B&L frames with Type 1 AN6531 lenses.   The frame at the upper right is made by B&L and has Type 2 AN6531 lenses.   The frame at lower right is made by Willson and has Type 1 lenses.

The two frames to the left are B&L frames with Type 1 AN6531 lenses. The frame at the upper right is made by B&L and has Type 2 AN6531 lenses. The frame at lower right is made by Willson and has Type 1 lenses.

Various contractors made the frames and ground the lenses. These included American Optical, Bausch & Lomb, The Chas. Fischer Spring Co. (which primarily made AN6530 Goggles) and Willson. Frame and hinge design varied slightly from contractor to contractor. This ad for surplus AN6531 aviator sunglasses, from the June 1948 Popular Science, notes the different manufacturers:

Ad from June 1948 Popular Science magazine for military surplus, including aviator sunglasses with Bausch & Lomb, American Optical and Fisher AN6531 lenses.

Ad from June 1948 Popular Science magazine for military surplus, including aviator sunglasses with Bausch & Lomb, American Optical and Fisher AN6531 lenses.

You’ll notice Ray Ban is not included. This is probably because, to the best of my knowledge, not a single pair of Ray Ban branded sunglasses was issued by the U.S. Government to Army or Navy aviators during WWII. Ray Ban was a civilian division of Bausch & Lomb. I have no access to information about the quantities of Ray Ban sunglasses produced during the war, but in general production of civilian goods ceased.

After the war Bausch & Lomb marketed facsimiles of the AN6531 sunglasses to the general public, as did most of the other contractors that produced them. They did so under the Ray Ban brand. The Ray Ban brand is no longer a part of Bausch & Lomb.

For some reason, however, I keep reading that Ray Ban “invented” aviator sunglasses. I have no idea where that information originated but it seems to be inaccurate. Probably the best remedy would be to repost this post and the others in the series so anyone that’s curious can learn the actual origins of aviator sunglasses.

A bit more about aviators next week. PLEASE take a moment to scroll to the top of the sidebar and SUBSCRIBE so you’ll know about it when it’s posted. In the meantime here’s a photo of Lt. Mike Hunter taken in 1942. He appears to be wearing flying sun glasses (comfort cable), with AN6531 Type 1 lenses, made by… American Optical!

October 1942. "Lieutenant 'Mike' Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California." 4x5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer for the Office of War Information.

October 1942. “Lieutenant ‘Mike’ Hunter, Army test pilot assigned to Douglas Aircraft Company, Long Beach, California.” 4×5 Kodachrome transparency by Alfred Palmer for the Office of War Information.

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8 Responses

  1. Great article. Very interesting and educational!

  2. Moss Lipow says:

    Why, thank you. I do my best.

  3. Ralf Meyer says:

    Very interesting, my investigations are the same, i have a own small optician and eyeglass museum in germany..;-)

  4. Very interesting. I wore my dad’s WW II vintage aviator glasses in 1968 when no one else in Detroit would be caught dead in them. A year later, when “Easy Rider” popularized them, my pair had broken and become unusable!

    • Moss Lipow says:

      I’m not sure if Easy Rider popularized the style, but those were Ray Ban Olympians anyway. Great style, but your father’s service aviators were way more iconic and cool.

  5. Donna Rodman says:

    I have a par of AN6530 Goggles trying to find out more about them.

  6. cornell says:

    B&L produced the sunglasses worn by McArthur. They become popular and so B&l started to produce them in a large scale under the brand Ray-Ban (the name says it clear, they ban the sunrays).

    • Moss Lipow says:

      Could be. It’s hard to see the brow bar well enough to tell: MacArthur always seemed to have it hidden under the bill of his peaked cap.

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