“Oh hey, I hope my eyeballs don’t get frozen today” is something that most of us don’t have to worry about before clocking in for work, but that was a real possibility for test pilots in the early 20th century. As pilots pushed their planes towards higher and higher altitudes — and towards colder and colder external temperatures — they had to wear heavy goggles to protect their eyes. The downside is that those insulated specs did pretty much nothing to protect them from the glare of the sun.
According to the New York Times, record-setting aviator John Macready was inspired to ask Bausch & Lomb if the company could help him design a pair of glasses that could make flying at altitude literally easier on the eyes.
“[T]he bright sunlight in the upper atmosphere hurt his eyes,” his daughter, Sally Macready Wallace, told the outlet. “My dad gave Bausch & Lomb the original shape, tint and fit [of aviator lenses].” (Macready knew what he was talking about too: by the time he contacted Bausch & Lomb, he’d already set a world record for reaching the highest altitude in-flight; set another record for the world’s then-longest endurance flight; and had made the first-ever nonstop transcontinental flight from New York City to San Diego.)
Ray-Ban’s Aviator sunglasses were released in 1937 and the brand got a big boost when newspapers ran a picture of General Douglas MacArthur wearing the now-iconic shades during World War II. The style is still among Ray-Ban’s most popular, and the brand’s name recognition is partially why Luxottica paid $640 million to buy Bausch & Lomb’s eyewear division in 1999. According to Forbes, by 2016, Ray-Ban accounted for over 25% of Luxottica’s annual sales.
And yeah, they still look pretty bad ass.
Bausch & Lomb also made binoculars, too. If you think that’s a strange segue, it is! But, this week’s Video Rewind has fun with movies and binoculars. Check it out!