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Who Was First - AO, Randolph or Ray-Ban?

by John M. White |

Musings

How is it that we become obsessed with something?

Does lightning strike? Is it a nervous habit? Why?

I researched this question and the best answer I could find was from a psychologist who opined it was "our need for reward and meaning".

So, why would I be obsessed about Aviator Sunglasses.?

Well, I love to fly airplanes and think about flying a lot!

I am an old (not so bold) pilot and have been since 1961.

(We have a saying in aviation: "There are no old bold pilots" - for obvious reasons!)

While learning to fly I discovered that other airplanes in my vicinity were hard to spot.

The powerful sunlight and glare at altitude made it difficult to see them.

This is especially true for military pilots!

Convinced of the need for a quality pair of sunglasses I visited the PX and bought my first pair of aviators - AOs!

Back in the day they sold for about twenty bucks.

Boy, have things changed!

Today aviator sunglasses are standard issue to military pilots around the world.

They have also become a popular fashion item.

And, so expensive!

So, Who Was First With Aviator Sunglasses?

Well, this is not as easy to figure out as I first thought.

If you search Google you will find a number of articles claiming which manufacturer was first.

Among them are AO, Bausch & Lomb, Persol, The Chas. Fischer Spring Co. and Willson, all trying to claim they were first..

But I am not so sure that everyone really knows who was first.

So, let's see if we can figure this out.

Glasses and Sunglasses

Before we get to sunglasses we have to talk about the evolution of glasses.

Back in 1250 Sir Robert Bacon uncovered earlier writings about the magnifying properties of glass dating back to the 11th century.

He decided to figure out how to use this information and is credited for using the maginifying properties of glass to see better.

The very first glasses were pieces of glass in hand held frames made of wood.

These first primitive glasses appeared in Renaissance paintings showing scholars holding handheld frames or perch-style glasses.

Perch-style glasses - you know, those singular ocular devices stuck in one eye with a lanyard attached to them.

Because Italians were the first glass blowers they became experts in creating glass lenses in different thicknesses. In this way they could vary the magnification properties of the lenses.

Where to Start?

I suppose the best place to start is with The History of Sunglasses, an earlier article I wrote.

So, as we can see, sunglasses (in one form or another) have been around for a long time.

But they didn't really become a commodity until WWII.

Sometime prior to WWI American Optical came out with goggles which pilots used to protect their eyes.

Early aircraft engines used a lot of oil, much of which flew back in the face of the pilot. The pilots wore white scarves around their neck, primarily to keep their goggles clean. 

American Optical Company AO Flight Goggles

Prior to the Great Depression everyone and their brother started a company, many of which produced similar items. Apparently that is true of sunglasses as well.

During that time period cars, motorcycles and airplanes were being designed, built and sold.

This created a lot of demand for goggles, and any number of early manufacturers competed for that market.

In 1929 Col. John A. Macready worked with Bausch & Lomb to design sunglasses that would reduce the effects of brilliant sunlight which was distracting pilots.

In 1936 Bausch & Lomb created a prototype known as "Anti-Glare" sunglasses. They had plastic frames and green lenses.

Prior to that In 1935 the U.S. Army requested quotes to provide sunglasses for the US military.

The American Optical Company of Southbridge, MA designed the D-1 sunglasses and delivered them on August 13, 1935.

The U.S. Army Air Corps decided to purchase the D-1 sunglasses made by the American Optical Company.

The American Optical AO D-1 flight goggle.

 After the D-1 was developed a number of American companies kept developing more advanced sunglasses.

The US military decided to standardize the design and designated them AN6531 sunglasses (the AN stood for Army/Navy). 

In November of 1941 the U.S. Military decided to purchase the AN6531-1 flyng sunglasses with "comfort cable" temples.

The sunglasses were produced by various contractors including The American Optical Company  Bausch & Lomb, The Chas. Fischer Spring Co, The Willson Optical Company and The Rochester Optical Co.

Each manufacturer varied their designs slightly including the frames, hinges and lenses.

Here is an image of what the AN6531 sunglasses looked like:

AN6531-1 Military Sunglasses produced by various manufactures including American Optical Company

Of course, the manufacturers began marketing their new sunglasses to the public, and here is an early advertisement for the Bausch & Lomb "Ray-Bans":

Early Ray-Ban sunglasses with the iconic tear drop shape

Conclusion

It is my opinion, after much research, that The American Optical Company was the first to manufacture aviator sunglasses.

In 1958 American Optical (AO) created the new style of aviator sunglasses with the rectangular lenses.

These were called the Flight Goggle 58.

I will be writing more about the evolution of aviator sunglasses in later posts.

In the meantime, keep your wings straight and level Hersch!

The origin of aviator sunglasses by John M. White a/k/a JetAviator7

Aviator Sunglasses

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