The Innovation Reading Glasses Lenses over Time


TheInnovation Reading Glasses Lenses over Time


Readingglasses refers to magnification gadgets that humans wear in front ofeyes with the objective of correcting abnormal eyesight. The earliestinvention records date back to first century AD. According to Rome’sEmperor Nero’s instructor, Seneca the Younger, humans were fillingtransparent glass jars with water and using them for magnificationpurposes. However, he claimed that Nero had a variety of specializedmagnification glasses that he used to watch gladiatorial games andreading letters. Traditional glasses lenses were crude objects withweak vision correction (Lutemaker 1982, p. 14). Besides, they werecumbersome and tedious since users had to support them in front ofthe eyes using their hands. Historians claim that an unknown Italianinventor developed the first pair of typical eyeglasses thatresembles modern spectacles in 1286 AD. The inventor was unknown ashe was unwilling to share his discovery with other people (Lutemaker1982, p. 24). Innovation of the reading glasses followed the marketpull model of innovation.

Infact, reading glasses were only popularized by a Dominican Friar,Giordano da Pisa, who manufactured several eyeglasses and distributedthem in 1306. Initial development of the reading glasses was drivenby the market demand for assistive devices that could help peoplewith eyesight problems read well. The spectacles featured two piecesof eye lenses attached to a piece of metal such as the ones ApostleConrad is wearing in figure one below. Under the evolutionary theory,this is the only phase that can be classified as independentdevelopment because it indicates the start of a new paradigm in thefield of eyeglasses (Leger, 2007, p. 10). Although there is noadequate evidence regarding the original inventor of reading glasses,China, India and Europe are the earliest places where the tools werewidely used (Lutemaker 1982, p. 33). Judging from the long history ofreading glasses, no particular person deserves recognition as theoriginator of spectacles technology since several developers havecontributed substantially to eyeglasses improvement. The objective ofthis essay is analyzing the development of the rimmed reading glassesinto contact glasses lenses and the benefits that users have gained.

Figure1: Reading glasses, 14thcentury

Source:Medievalists (2013, p.1).

Contemporaryreading glass lenses have progressed in a variety of ways, whichinclude structure, design, relevance, purpose, color and shape.Tommaso da Modena’s 1352 portrait illustrated Cardinal Hugh readinga scriptorium using spectacles that closely resembles the pairApostle Conrad used, but he used his nose pressure to hold his pairof glasses in place. Archaeologists found a pair of reading glassesin 1403 at Northern Alps. The spectacles were located on analtarpiece of the church in Bad Wildungen, Germany (Segrave 2011, p.38). The essential thing with the retrieved pair of eyeglasses isthat it had convex lenses that could correct presbyopia andfarsightedness (hyperopia) conditions that were associated with oldage. Besides, it resembled the reading glasses illustrated in Tomasoand Conrad’s portraits. This implies that manufacturers had alreadyacquired the capacity to add functional benefits to the readingglasses by the end of the 13thcentury. This could imply that the eyeglasses lenses used as early as1200 AD had efficient capability to correct eyesight (Segrave 2011,p. 39).

Milestonesof reading glasses innovation

Thesecond level of innovation, after the development of convex lenses,was to design glasses that could be used without the need to supportthe frame using hands. In 1720s, Girolamo Savonarola designed astring that persons wearing reading eyeglasses could use to securespectacles in front of their eyes. The string passed behind awearer’s head, and then a hat weight secured it. Edward Scarlett (aBritish optician) improved the string attachment into thecontemporary frames that are secured behind the earlobes inmid-1720s. This was consistent with the concept of diversity asdescribed in the evolutionary theory, which holds that innovation isat times driven by the desire to produce alternative (Leger, 2007, p.9). The string and the rigid frame were different alternativeinnovations that were intended to enhance the usability of theeyeglasses. This was a market pulled innovation since users of thereading glasses needed products that were more convenient to use. Thetwo innovations (including the string and the temporary frame)increased the comfort of the users of the reading glasses. However,eyeglasses developers must have begun looking for alternatives tomake the spectacles lighter so that an individual could wear them forextended time without feeling fatigued (Lutemaker 1982, p. 14).

Figure2: 18thcentury reading glasses with a string, 1720

Source:Pinterest (2014, p. 1)

BenjaminFranklin’s 1784 bifocal lenses also made substantial contributionto the reading glasses innovation. He suffered from both presbyopiaand myopia thus, circumstances motivated him to create a bifocallens that could address both problems instead of exchanging themyopia and presbyopia reading glasses lenses regularly. Franklin’sbifocals contained temple frames, which made them comfortable andconvenient to wear (Rosenthal 1995, p. 78). This was consistent withthe continuity concept of the evolutionary theory, which assumes thatinnovation is an improvement of the previous performance and actions(Leger, 2007, p. 8). This means that the development of the bifocalglasses was part of the process of developing glasses that couldaddress eye problems, while enhancing the comfort of users. However,the glasses never gained popularity, as they were mainly associatedwith elderly persons. Women, in particular, preferred the previousscissor design eyeglasses, as they did not have to wear themthroughout. This implies that the glass producers focused only on oneelement (product) of the 4Ps model, while failing to focus on theprice, promotion to increase the popularity and usage, and placementto ensure that the glasses are brought closer to potential consumers.Besides, improved versions of scissors reading glasses lenses couldeffectively assist individuals to focus on close and distance objects(Rosenthal 1995, p. 100).

Figure3: Development of bifocals, 1784

Source:Jefferson (2014, p. 1)

SirGeorge Biddell Airy successfully modified reading glasses lenses withcapability to repair astigmatism in 1827. This was also part of themarket pull innovation because there was a demand for products thatcould address the astigmatism eye condition. Just like Franklin,Biddell got the inspiration to develop refractive lenses because healso suffered from the condition. Airy’s eyeglasses lenses becamefamous because many people with similar eyesight problem weredetermined to control the problem so that they could watch the newlydiscovered baseball game. Sir Biddell’s innovation met Kotler’ssix levels of meaning, by innovators had not managed to go beyond thefirst elements of the 4Ps model, which means that they focused onfeatures of the product and less on the market strategies (Crabb,2012, p. 1). One of the attributes of the glasses was that they werewell built, which benefitted users by enhancing their convenience andaddressing their health challenges. In addition, sphero-cylindricalglasses were associated with the enhanced safety of users and aculture of efficiency in correcting astigmatism. The brand itselfcould be associated with a high-tech personality that targeted theold age consumers. The discovery of eyeglasses with capability tocorrect astigmatism was necessary because individuals suffering fromthe condition had no alternative means for addressing the problem(Sundbo 1998, p. 60). In addition, sphero-cylindrical lenses weroverall shaped, as opposed to the traditional lenses that wascircular. This catered for the diverse consumer preference.

Figure4: Glasses with sphero-cylindrical lenses for astigmatism

Source:Crabb (2012, p. 1).

Between1900 and 1920, the eye industry became an autonomous industry.Several people began wearing spectacles every time. This isconsistent with the diffusion theory, holds that diffusion oftechnology takes place via a series of communication channels andover a period among members of similar social or cultural system(Trott 2008, p. 17). This means that by 1920, people had enoughknowledge and were persuaded about the significance of readingglasses. Competing manufacturers could now produce large supplies ofthe reading because they were assured of a stable market for theirsupplies (Trott 2008, p. 17).

Thehigh demand of glasses in the market called for the use of plastic,which made the spectacles cheaper and the designs more flexible. Thisimplies more people could afford the eyeglasses. An example of thefamous versions of the glasses included the French “pince-nez” or&quotpinch nose&quot (Sundbo 1998, p. 81). At this time, the 4Psmodel was in full application in the eyeglass industry. This isbecause manufacturers could offer products that addressed the needsof their clients, attach prices on them, promote, and bring them tothe nearest reach of the target consumers. For example, the pinchnoses glasses, which were manufactured in France in 1940, could nowbe exported to the United States to increase their accessibilityamong the U.S. consumers. The need to manufacture more pince-nezglasses and export them to the U.S. was facilitated by the increasein the market liberalization and globalization as held by theinternal trade theory (Leger, 2007, p. 10). An additional reason thatincreased popularity of eyeglasses lenses in early 1900s was thatseveral celebrities wore the lenses, as well as US presidents CalvinCoolidge and Teddy Roosevelt. Fans of these politicians andcelebrities purchased the cheaper models of eyeglasses lenses inorder to match the top trend back then (Sundbo 1998, p. 88). Althoughthese gases were not associated with medical gains, users benefitedbecause the glasses increased their pleasure. The pince-nez branddemonstrated the six levels of meaning. The brand’s attributeinclude the well-built product that benefitted the clients byincreasing their pleasure. The brand was also prestigious, associatedwith the French culture of high quality, and developed for the eliteusers, who include the politicians.

Figure5: Different models of pince-nez, 1920

Source:Opera Optical (2014, p. 1)

England’sSir William Crookes invented colored lenses in 1913. However, thetechnology remained unpopular until 1930s when Crookes designedeyeglasses lenses that could absorb infrared and ultraviolet light.The improved shade lenses were designed for military pilots in WorldWar II (Davidson &amp MacGregor, 2002, p. 68). This upholds theconcept of continuity as described in the evolutionary theory, whichholds that innovation is a development of the past successes. Thismeans that the development of the more effective shade glasses wasfacilitated by the unpopular glasses that were developed in 1930s.This was also a market pull innovation because the shade glasses weredeveloped to address the market demand for glasses that could protectpilots from the UV rays, give them a clear vision of the earth’ssurface when on war missions, and protect them from eye damage. By1940s, reading glasses came with a layer of anti-refractive coatingthat blocked UV rays from reaching the wearer’s eye. In addition,the lenses were photosensitive of photochromic thus, it darkens whenexposed to bright light and lightens up when in a dark environment.The characteristics made the lenses suitable to drivers as they couldminimize glare of approaching vehicles and UV rays. Under the sixlevels of meaning, shade glasses suggest well built products withfunctional benefits (such as user’s protection), and indicates theproducers desire to enhance the safety of users. In addition, thebrand promotes the western culture of high organization andefficiency. Presently, many developers are making multifocalprogressive lenses. The technology is imperative as an individual canfocus on objects at both close and far distance conveniently(Davidson &amp MacGregor, 2002, p. 70). This technology attracted astiff competition where different manufacturers are producing varioustypes of shade glasses, whose price depends on the quality of themultifocal lens. The brand is promoted in different ways (includingadvertising) and brought to places close to users through retailoutlets. Moreover, manufacturers increased the diversity of lenses byproducing rectangular, oval, as well as the circular shaped lenses.This increase the selection base for the eyeglass consumers.

Figure6: Multifocal progressive and shade lenses, 1940

Source:Anne (2014, p. 1)

Moderndrivers can choose from a wide range of polarized eyeglasses designedfor reducing glare when driving. The lenses are available in a widevariety of colors such as green, neutral grey, amber and brown. Greylenses are suitable in a bright environment because they do notfalsify original colors. However, brown color offers the highestefficiency for absorbing the sun’s glare. Yellow tinted sunglassesmake images sharper, but they are unsuitable for driving because theyenhance color distortion (Sundbo 1998, p. 78).

Thineyeglasses became popular in the 1990s. The thin glass technology isa market pull innovation that was brought about by the market demandfor light, but effective glasses. Thin eyeglasses have facilitatedthe development of the soft lenses technology, which is a correctiveglasses placed on the eye surface. This was consistent with theevolutionary economics theory because the thin lenses were improvedversions of the thick lenses that had been used for centuries. Thethickness and the weight of the old version of lenses created theneed for the development of lighters and more effective lenses. Inaddition, thin glass lenses are more aesthetic than the outdatedthick versions. Prior to the development of thin glasses lenses,individuals involved in physical duties such as football sports hadto retire if they developed eyesight problems. Framed eyeglasses aredelicate and vulnerable to breakage when one is involved in sportssuch as football. This explains the reason thin eyeglasses havegained high popularity in the recent past (Davidson &amp MacGregor,2002, p. 46). This glass lenses are produced by different firms,priced depending on quality, and promoted through various channels,such as online marketing. However, the process of bringing the thinlens glasses to places that are closer to users is limited to healthcare facilities because their use requires some prescription byhealth care providers in most cases.

Figure7: Thin lens eyeglasses, 1990

Source:Eyesright (2014, p. 1)

JoshuaSilver attained the greatest achievement so far in reading glasseslenses. He designed the self-adjustable AdSpecs eyewear in 2008. Theprimary objective of this type of innovation was the need to enhancethe users’ autonomy in regulating the capability of eyeglasses bythemselves. The invention is trendy because the eyeglasses areadjustable such that an individual can moderate the adjustability tosuit their needs. The process of adjusting the lenses in order tosuit personal requirements is called “self-refraction”. On theside of the eyeglasses’ frames is a syringe containing siliconeoil. A patient uses the syringe to pump either more or less siliconein the middle of the eyeglasses in order to alter their shape. Once auser attains the desired visual clarity, he or she tightens the sidescrew to sustain the clarity. The invention is essential as a singlepair of eyeglasses can serve a patient effectively in differentenvironments such as in pitch-darkness, as well as in regions withbright light (Sundbo 1998, p. 51). Although AdSpecs eyewear is one ofthe latest technologies in the eyeglasses sector, it has spreadrapidly across the globe as a result of the market liberalization andan increase in the popularity of the concept of globalization. Thisis consistent with the international trade theory, which holds thateconomic integration and liberalization increase the pace at whichinnovation spreads (Kotler &amp Kotler 2012, p. 59). Moreover, thestiff competition on the eyeglass industry has pushed manufacturersto explore alternatives that can address clients’ needs morecomprehensively.

Figure8: AdSpecs eyewear, 2008

Source:Zhang (2011, p. 343)

Thesuccessful development of AdSpecs indicates the integration of thestate-of-the-art technology in the development of eyeglasses. Thelifecycle of the recent types of eyeglasses has been short given thefact that technology has reduced the time required to develop usefulglasses. For example, the life cycle of thin glasses took only 18years, where its decline phases were triggered by the development ofAdSpecs in 2008 by Joshua Silver. The growth and maturity stages aremainly driven by the increase in the number of people with eyesightproblems, while the decline stage has been driven by the emergence ofbetter glasses or the market demand for improved versions. Therefore,the lifecycle marketing model is an effective tool for studying theinnovation of the eyeglasses. Strategy towards innovation is one ofthe key characteristics that contributed towards the development ofAdSpecs. For example, Kopernik, which is a non-profit organization,has made a breakthrough in the development of AdSpecs targeting themarket segment composed of the low-income earners with eyesightdefects (Kopernik, 2014, p. 1). AdSpec is a product that requires thecoordination of diverse skills (such as the use of liquid to regulaterefraction.


Inconclusion, reading eyeglasses lenses is an old technology that hasdeveloped over several years. Various factors ranging fromglobalization and a new craze for fashionable contact lenses tosatisfy fashion trends has enhanced demand for the eyeglasses, whichin turn has motivated developers to create diverse eyeglasses wear tomeet the demand. In fact, over 100 million people currently usereading eyeglasses worldwide, and the number is expected to reach onebillion people by 2020. In addition, the rate at which technology hasbeen advancing suggests that researchers have a space for creativityand innovation.


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