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:
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 This tint proved insufficient to protect pilot’s eyes from sun glare so this lens was superseded by the AN6531 Type 2 lens in rose smoke.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:
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:
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!