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Worth Every Penny: American Optical Sunglasses

by John M. White |

It seems that when it comes to aviator sunglasses there are American Optical Sunglasses, Ray Ban and Randolph Aviators. Of these 3 competitors which model is right for you? When researching this subject I came across the following article published on 02 June 2011 on the "An Affordable Wardrobe" blog:

Worth Every Penny: American Optical Sunglasses

It's well known I do love my RayBans, but they can get heavy on the face when the weather turns hot. Enter the other classic essential sunglasses, the aviator, or as American Optical calls them, the original pilot". Sunglasses are one thing I believe are worth spending a few bucks on for a good pair. When you have nice ones, you tend to take care of them, keep track of them, try hard not to sit on them and so forth, and in return you have them forever. So, flush from the recent Top Shelf Flea Market III, my plan was to spoil myself with a pair from Randolph Engineering. But I dig these even better. Allow me to explain. I wanted the lenses to be that particular green shade, but I didn't know what the terminology was with the Randolphs. So I asked a friend who has served in the military, His answer was forget Randolph, go with American Optical. Just as good, with just as good a provenance, only much less expensive. That, my friends, is speaking my language. Randolph Engineering glasses are very "in" right now, being the official glasses of the US armed forces and a favorite of Don Draper (you know, that t.v. character who dictates style these days, even though I learned his bag from my grandfather, who sort of was him in real life. Some day, I'll rant about friggin Mad Men). But American Optical were the glasses of choice back in the 1950s. So, if Don Draper were a real person, he would likely have had these instead. The glasses are sturdy and tough, but feather light to wear. The lenses, which are glass, not only block harmful rays but also heat. Colors remain true to sight through them. They do have logos, but they are so small as to be nearly invisible. A simple "AO" on the arms, tiny, and a tiny "AO" printed on one lens is all. Bayonet style temples seal the deal for me, but the do come in standard style and also wrap around wire. Just like Randolphs. American Optical has been making glasses in Southbridge Massachusetts since 1826, so these should appeal to the Americana fetishists on both style and origin, as well as history. I don't have any problem supporting Massachusetts business either...just like Randolphs. Today I actually saw and held a pair from Randolph Engineering, and apart from logos the two are practically indistinguishable. There is, however, one striking difference. Randolph Engineering sunglasses cost $109 or more, American Optical sells for $74. I got mine from Optics Planet for $41.99. They are worth every penny."

My Take

Because I sell two of the three on my website (I will be adding Ray Bans in the future) I am in somewhat of a quandary. There is a certain amount of nostalgia for American Optical Sunglasses because they supplied the U.S. Military throughout World Wars I and II, and even were worn by astronauts when they went to the moon! In 1989 Alan J. McKinley joined American Optical as Controller becoming President in 1998. But the owners of American Optical continued to sell off divisions until finally in August of 2005 Mr. McKinley purchased the Metal Frame Division (the American Optical Sunglasses division) and named the new company AO Eyewear, Inc.

AO Eyewear

At first AO Eyewear decided to manufacture in China but by the year 2015 realized that in order to grow and compete they needed to bring production back to the United States. And that is what they did. Today they manufacture their sunglasses in the United States just down the road from the original American Optical Company campus in Southbridge, MA. But the story gets even more interesting.

Randolph Engineering

The two gentlemen who formed Randolph Engineering in 1972 were Jan Waszkiewicz and Stanley Zaleski. It turns out that they started their careers as engineers for - you guessed it - the American Optical Company! They immediately went to work trying to improve upon the American Optical Sunglasses line with a line of their own starting with their flagship product Randolph Aviators. To get started they teamed up with Sean Tucker, an aerobatic pilot extraordinaire, who painted his Pitts Special and emblazoned the sides with the word "Randolph Sunglasses". And so the battle was on!

My Opinion

Well, if you think that I am going to take sides in this battle you are wrong. I love both products. Each has its own unique advantages, whether it is pricing, reputation or the quality of the product. Either one will serve you well. Find AO Eyewear Original Pilots here. Find Randolph Aviators here. Keep your eyes cool and protected today my friend!

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