Contrary to what one might assume, the invention of sunglasses didn’t derive solely from the desire to shield the eyes from the sun. Much like one of their alternative uses today, the first documented purpose of sunglasses was to shield facial expressions instead of sunlight. Since then, Sunglasses have been used for everything from blocking harmful rays while in outer space.

Smoky Quartz in China
One of the first concepts of sunglasses dates back to the 12th century, when court figures in China wore glasses with smoky quartz lenses in order to hide their facial expressions

Tints for Better Vision
The first sunglasses made for the public came to light in the 18th century, when designer and inventor James Ayscough from England created eyeglasses with blue or green tints.  Ayscough believed that the tint could improve vision, and he sold the shades for public use. Though his intention wasn’t to block the sun, his invention was another building block in the history of sunglass design.

Sunglasses for Medical Aid
In the 19th century, a syphilis outbreak emerged in Europe. Yellow and brown-tinted sunglasses were prescribed to people who carried syphilis, to counteract one of the disease’s symptoms of visual sensitivity to light.

Mainstream Popularity
The first milestone in sunglass popularity was started by Sam Foster in 1929. Foster, founder of Foster Grant eyewear, developed the first affordable sunglasses made for mass production. Foster sold sunglasses on the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and his products soon gained widespread popularity in America. The company continued to grow in popularity in the 1960s, with their “Who’s That Behind Those Foster Grants?” campaign, which popularized the sunglasses with Hollywood celebrities.

Birth of the Aviators
Following the launch of Foster Grant sunglasses, the Army Air Corps worked with Bausch & Lomb in the 1930s to develop a sunglass lens specifically designed for pilots. Bausch & Lomb created a sunglass specific company call Ray-Ban (short for banning sun rays), which in turn created the aviator-style sunglasses made for pilots.

Lens Technology
Through the mid to late 1900s, sunglasses continued to grow in popularity. Movies, musicians, and politicians who wore sunglasses in the public eye created a widespread consumer interest. The science of sunglass technology  progressed and mass-produced sunglasses began to materialize, like anti-reflective coating,  anti-fog coating, Polarized lenses, shatter and scratch resistant lenses, UV protection, and others.