AO Eyewear history began before sunglasses had become a popular eyewear product.
The AO Eyewear history begins when William Beecher learned the jeweler’s trade in Providence, Rhode Island. He then moved to Southbridge, MA. and opened his own jewelry store. In 1826 he encountered a pair of crude imported glasses from Europe. After a quick examination of the glasses Beecher said to himself “I can do it better”.
And so the American Optical Company was born.
In 1839 American Optical built a new factory called “The Old Spec Shop”. Soon Beecher’s manufacturing operation outgrew the 2nd floor of his jewelry shop. By the turn of the century the company was growing at an exponential rate and in 1905 set up an office in London.
American Optical soon was referred to as AO, and that is how it is known to this day.
AO Employs Over 2000 Employees
Early in the 1900s AO had a payroll cost in excess of $1m and employed over 2,000 employees. They were producing gold and silver frames exceeding 600,000 per year, 20times the number produced just 30 years earlier.
During the 1st World War the military needed glasses support for our troops and AO designed and built 8 mobile optical units. American Optical manufactured glasses, sunglasses and frames for soldiers serving during the war. These American Optical sunglasses quickly gained popularity with the public.
AO Builds Self-Contained Eyeglass Facilities
In 1917 AO provided 8 mobile optical units to the Allies complete with frames, lenses and refractive equipment for filling prescription glasses. They also made AO sunglasses for U.S. and Allied pilots in Europe. American Optical manufactured more than 2.5 million glasses during the First World War.
AO manufactured 2 basic metal frames during the war known as “Liberty” and “Victory”.
AO Sunglasses & World War II
Again in WWII American Optical manufactured optical products for the Allies including gun sights, bomb sights, aviation goggles, sunglasses and precision military instrument optics. During the Second World War AO provided 10 million goggles, 5 million sunglasses and over 6.5 million prescription lenses for the Allies.
AO’s war efforts resulted in the company and it’s employees were presented with the Army-Navy “E” award as recognition for the war efforts.
Early AO Sunwear
In 1913 AO purchased the rights to Crookes glasses and the study of ultraviolet radiation protection became an exact science.
Crookes glasses were manufactured with clear lenses or various darker tints made for outdoor use. By the early 1930s AO was providing aviator goggles to the Army Air Corps which were fitted with several different lens tints including the green calobar, amber, gray and clear lenses. By 1940 polarized sunglasses were available and were found to be especially helpful on water and snow for reducing glare off of reflective surfaces.
Aviator Sunglasses Become Popular
By 1980 aviator sunglasses (i.e. aviator goggles) became popular with the general public who came to appreciate the benefits of ultraviolet light protection and polarized lenses to improve vision while on the water or on a snow field.
In 1958 the Flight Goggle 58 replaced the B-7 goggle. Today these are Original Pilot sunglasses. The US military purchased them to provide pilots with maximum uv protection, optimal optical performance and wearer comfort.
Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, wore American Optical Original Pilot sunglasses. You can see them on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
AO Eyewear history shows that American optical pioneered the manufacture, production and distribution of sunglasses to both the military forces of the world. As they appeared in the military civilians became fascinated by them and wanted to purchase them for themselves.
The AO Randolph Engineering Connection
Jan Waszkiewicz, one of the original partners who formed Randolph Engineering, worked for AO after he emigrated from England after World War II and finished his formal education at Northeastern University in Boston, MA.
Similar to William Beecher, Waszkiewicz decided in 1972 he could make a better product than AO and its competitors, forming Randolph Engineering with his partner Stanley Zaleski and manufacturing their flagship product the Randolph Aviator sunglasses.
AO Original Pilot Sunglasses
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