Nairobi News


War stimulated the making of sun glasses

By JOHN NJIRU December 26th, 2013 2 min read

Sunglasses, also called stunnaz in pop culture, have come a long way over the years.

As a fashion and lifestyle statement by consumers, these glasses are sold everywhere in Nairobi.

Being stuck in one of the many Uhuru Highway traffic jams can give one an opportunity to sample various types of sunglasses sold by hawkers.

“I cannot do without my dark glasses and especially as we head into the sunny season. They also define me,” says Grace Kimeu, an IT specialist in Westlands.

The fad of dark glasses has seen an influx of Chinese products that are cheaper than mainstream products like Ray Ban, Gucci and Prada.

Dark glasses, amazingly, were not initially meant to block sunrays, or to make one look cool.

Dark glasses were first made in China in the 1430s through what was known as smoke tinting.

The reason was equally peculiar. The government then believed insulating the judges’ eyes in public courts would enhance impartiality!

In the mid-18th century, an American  James Ayscough started experimenting with glass tinting, hoping to correct some visual impairment.

His products were blue or green-tinted. He did not care about sun-rays and things like that.

The actual commercialisation of these gadgets began in the 20th century.

Sam Foster sold the first pair of Foster Grant sunglasses in 1929 in New Jersey.

Other optical firms joined the trade and in the 1930s, Army Air Corps commissioned Bausch & Lomb to make spectacles that would protect pilots from high-altitude glare.

In 1936, when World War II loomed, Ray Ban designed anti-glare aviator style sunglasses, using polarised lens technology newly created by Edwin H Land, the founder of Polaroid Corporation.

He also designed a slightly drooping frame perimeter to maximally shield an aviator’s eyes, which repeatedly glanced downward toward a plane’s instrument panel.

Fliers were given the glasses at no charge.

In 1937, the public   was able to buy the model Ray Ban aviator sunglasses. In the 1960s, Foster Grant initiated a rapid marketing campaign, drawing in huge demand for the glasses as a lifestyle item.

Celebrities of the day were used to push its popularity, leading to a multi-billion dollar industry that has survived for decades.

Conceived and sketched by Leonardo da Vinci in 1508, contact lens technology did not gel until 1827 when  the English astronomer John Herschel  suggested grinding a contact lens to exactly conform to the eye’s surface.