Sight for Sore Eyes: The Invention of Eyeglasses
- Monday, June 14, 2010
Want evidence that God is the Almighty Creator? Look no further than your eyes! The eye is an incredibly complex organ that has never been duplicated by science, no matter how hard man tries.
Although the eye is an incredible piece of God's work, some of us (the authors of this article included) need a little help to take full advantage of our sense of sight. We have to wear glasses. Glasses are optical devices that compensate for problems with our eyes—that is, they help us see more clearly.
If you wear glasses and you take them off, how does that affect what you see? Can you imagine if eyeglasses had never been invented? For many of us, the world would be a much different place. Eyeglasses are an invention that has changed the world!
The World Before Eyeglasses
Our story begins in the book of Jonah, Chapter 1:1-2: "Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me."
Around the year 1845, a British archaeologist named Austen Henry Layard was excavating the ruins in Kuyunjik, Iraq. The ruined city he was excavating was formerly known as Nineveh, the ancient capital of Assyria. Layard found an interesting object in the ruins: a ground crystal oval you could see through. He did not know exactly what it was or what it was intended for.
Layard presented the strange object to a friend, Sir David Brewster, a Scottish physicist who was also a licensed preacher. Brewster's scientific work revolved around the study of optics. Although Brewster could not be sure, this crystal oval seemed to be a magnifying glass that may have been used for reading. In 1853 he presented it to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, showing the association its magnifying capability. This may have been the first optical device used to help people see more clearly.
The Roman statesman Seneca supposedly used a glass sphere, filled with water, to act as a magnifier so he could read all of the books of Rome. The combination of the spherical shape and the water inside formed a simple optical lens.
By medieval times, optical devices called "reading stones" were fairly common. These stones were lenses that, when placed on top of a written document, magnified the letters to help a person read.
Brewster noted that the Assyrian crystal had a "bi-convex" shape, meaning it was curved outward on both sides. His recognition of this particular shape eventually led to the development of the Coddington magnifier. Brewster, along with fellow physicist William Hyde Wollaston, used the design from the Nineveh lens to make the Coddington magnifier.
While the art and science of glassmaking can be traced back to the late Bronze Age (1550-1200 BC), the earliest glass was used for vessels and ornaments. It was not of the optical quality required for making lenses. God, however, had already made glass! Certain crystal materials, such as emerald and quartz, already existed. These crystal materials were perfectly formed and only needed to be shaped to create visual magnification. It is believed that the emperor Nero used a piece of emerald to correct his vision when he was watching gladiators.
Although the magnifying lens from Nineveh may well have been the first lens, scientists in the 1200s knew about lenses and how they could be used to magnify objects to help correct a person's vision. It was during that century that the first wearable eyeglasses began to emerge.
The Invention of Eyeglasses
Who invented the world's first wearable eyeglasses? The truth is no one really knows for sure. An Italian named Salvino D'Armate is often credited with the invention. His tomb, which no longer exists, was said to have the inscription: Here lies Salvino degl' Armati, son of Armato of Florence, inventor of eyeglasses. May God forgive his sins. AD 1317.
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