It can seem like prescription eyeglasses have always been with us. And indeed, we’ve had access to modern glasses for several hundred years. Before that, rudimentary glasses offered moderate vision correction.

The first glasses are thought to have been developed in the thirteenth century, but how did people manage before that? Today it seems alarming to think of going through life with poor vision, but people in the past had to make it through, somehow.

Studies have suggested that myopia, or nearsightedness, is increasing in the United States and possibly worldwide. But the condition is nothing new. Humans have suffered from nearsightedness for as long as we’ve been around, and before the invention of glasses, it was definitely a struggle.

Early humans

Back in the earliest days of humankind, severe myopia could be a death sentence. After all, you’re more likely to be eaten by an apex predator if you can’t identify them quickly enough. Though we have no way of knowing for sure, it is likely that nearsighted proto-humans had a decreased life expectancy compared to their peers.

But as humans evolved, our social groups became more intricate. By the time hunter-gatherer societies had expanded to include other roles, there was room in the world at last for the nearsighted.

One of the unique aspects of human society compared to other animals is our ability to delegate roles to individuals based on their abilities. It is likely that nearsighted humans in the distant past spent their time making clothing, reciting stories or songs, or caring for children. Focusing on these tasks while others went out to hunt or gather would have been beneficial not just to the nearsighted humans, who would begin to enjoy longer lifespans, but also to the rest of the group, as well.


Many devices were used to augment vision during the early years of human society. Typically found amongst the upper class, these devices included bowls of water which magnified text and even large jewels, which could be held up to the eyes to reduce glare.

Some societies, such as the Inuit, used bones to fashion proto-sunglasses for themselves. These glasses looked more like goggles and only allowed in a small slit of light, somewhat protecting the wearer from the sun.

Modern sunglasses, of course, are a bit more advanced, and you don’t have to stare through a small slit. Sunglasses from 39DollarGlasses block 100 percent of UV rays and can be fitted with prescription lenses. Check out our new selection, updated to include the latest styles for 2019!

The first eyeglasses

Glasses history really got started in northern Italy in the late 1200s. Early versions of modern eyeglasses were invented, and these contraptions were much more similar to magnifying glasses than the eyeglasses we know today.

For several hundred years, eyeglasses were available to only those who truly needed them. As the technology spread through Europe and Asia, they became quite common among court officials and scholars. The common people of the world had little use for glasses nor the means to acquire them.

But then in the 15th century, the printing press was invented. This milestone, along with the 17th Century Reformation, contributed to a massive spike in literacy. Once people were reading, the need and desire for glasses grew. Suddenly people needed glasses to read and once they were accustomed to clearer reading vision, they were more interested in perfecting vision at all distances. The field of optometry took off running and doctors and scientists soon began experimenting with glasses that were more effective, utilized smaller lenses and were easier to wear.

Eyeglasses today

Today we’re lucky to have a huge variety of vision correction tools to choose from. Eyeglasses can now correct not just nearsightedness, but farsightedness and astigmatism, as well. Contact lenses are a great option for people who dislike glasses or who need to perform athletics. There are even corrective surgeries that can fix many cases of poor vision.

Even in the last ten years or so, we’ve made huge advancements in the prescription eyeglasses market. Eye doctors are now required by law to release prescription information to their patients, allowing you the opportunity to shop around for the best deals and styles. offers premium eyeglasses at discounted prices as well as contact lenses and computer glasses.

Buying your eyeglasses online has the extra benefit of convenience. No more waiting in lines or returning to the optometrist’s for a second time to pick up your frames. Just enter your prescription, choose your frames and wait for them to be speedily delivered to your home. Questions? Let us help you get started!