Shades Through the Ages: Tracing the Inventors and Innovators of Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a ubiquitous item these days, as they are worn for both fashion and function. But have you ever stopped to think about who invented them? Let's dive into a brief history and explore the origins of sunglasses.

ancient sunglasses

The Ancient World

Firstly, sunglasses can be defined as a pair of glasses with lenses that protect the eyes from bright light and harmful UV rays. Their importance cannot be overstated, as they help to prevent eye damage and are known to reduce the risk of developing cataracts and other eye diseases.

Believe it or not, the use of sunglasses can be traced back to the ancient world. Inuit and Yupik people, for example, used flattened walrus ivory "glasses" with narrow slits to block out harmful reflected rays from snow and water. Furthermore, the Roman emperor Nero was known to have watched gladiator fights through smaragdus (emerald) gems, which reduced the glare and afforded better visibility.

The 18th Century

Fast forward to the 18th century, and we see the development of modern eyeglasses. An optician by the name of James Ayscough is credited with creating blue and green-tinted lenses that were believed to help with certain vision impairments. Additionally, the Chinese were known to use flat panels of smoky quartz to protect their eyes from the sun.

It wasn't until the 20th century that sunglasses began to be popularized, as movie stars and celebrities were seen sporting them on the big screen. The likes of Marlon Brando, James Dean, and Audrey Hepburn helped to make sunglasses a fashionable accessory, as well as a practical one.

The Invention of Polarized Sunglasses

Perhaps the biggest innovation in sunglasses technology came with the invention of polarized sunglasses. The credit for this innovation goes to Edwin H. Land, the founder of the Polaroid Corporation. Polarization technology works by reducing glare and blocking out intense reflected light, making it ideal for outdoor activities such as fishing and skiing.

Today, sunglasses are a billion-dollar industry with countless styles, designs, and features to choose from. It's important to protect your eyes from the harmful effects of UV radiation; not just on sunny days, but on cloudy ones as well. Furthermore, sunglasses can add a touch of style and personality to any outfit.


In conclusion, while we may not know who invented the first pair of sunglasses, we can certainly appreciate the long and varied history of this essential accessory. From ancient times to the modern day, sunglasses have served both practical and aesthetic purposes. So, next time you reach for your shades, take a moment to appreciate the inventors and innovators who made them possible.