The Development of Opticianry

In early times customers made their selection from a tray of eyeglasses which were already assembled and which contained standardized non-prescription lenses. Today, this same procedure is still followed in some novelty and drug stores where ready made reading glasses are selected from a display. As could be expected the practitioners who made these non-prescription eyeglasses were known as spectacle makers. The first business organization of these artisans was a German guild formed late in the sixteenth century. In England a trade association was instituted in 1629, when King Charles ( I ) granted the group a charter naming them as the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers. Their most important privilege was to set quality standards and to be permitted to destroy any spectacles which did not pass their inspection. The organization is still active, but its purpose is considerably altered. Now it gives the examinations for British Ophthalmic Opticians (optometrists) who do sight testing and supply prescription glasses. The spectacles worn by the early settlers of this country were imported from Europe. In 1843 William Beecher, a jeweler in Southbridge, Massachusetts, began the quantity production of silver spectacle frames. His spectacles were completed with European lenses. In 1861 a German immigrant, John Bausch, developed a lens grinding machine in Rochester, New York and during the Civil War, Mr. Bausch produced eyeglasses with hard rubber frames. After the war, the firm expanded into the production of watchmaker’s loupes and other magnifiers, and by 1878 it had entered into the manufacture of spectacle lenses. Five years later (1883) the firm started by William Beecher, American Optical Company, also started to manufacture spectacle lenses. Both Beecher’s and Bausch’s firms were dependent upon European optical glass for their lenses. But since Bausch and his partner Lomb had now entered into the manufacture of microscopes, photographic lenses, and other instruments, they were in need of many varieties of glass. In 1903 they began experiments in the making of optical glass and by 1915 , they had successfully produced useful glass. This accomplishment proved a godsend to the armed services of our country in World War I. Range-finders, gun sights, periscopes, telescopes and binoculars contained several types of optical glass which were not available from our European Allies. The Bausch & Lomb glass plant produced 65 perecnt of the optical glass made in this country during World War I.

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