Protective eyewear dates back to prehistoric times when Inuit people created snow goggles out of flattened walrus ivory. The accessory, before it was an accessory, also made its way through the ancient Roman and Chinese cultures as unique visual tools. It wasn’t until the early-1900s when tinted eyewear stepped unto the style scene, thanks in part to early movie stars and one gentleman named Sam Foster who set-up shop in 1929 on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ. Queue the gratuitous Snookie and Situation ‘sunglasses at night’ visual as they protect themselves from the strobe lights.
To learn about how Ray Ban and Smith Optics changed the eyewear industry forever, keep reading on the next page.
The next two major eyewear booms came as a result of WWII and can be attributed to aviator sunglasses developed for U.S. pilots as well as high-altitude goggles worn by the 10th Mountain Division in Italy. In 1936, the Army Air Corps approached optical experts Bausch + Lomb to create highly protective spectacles to shield pilots from the dangers of high altitude glare. They developed a dark-green tint to absorb yellow light, built a brand around this sun-banning technology dubbed “Ray-Ban’, and then coated the oversized teardrop-shaped lenses with a polarized film created by Edwin H. Land — who would go on to found Polaroid as well as launch the 3D movie “Golden Age” of the 50s. Aviators were made available to the public in 1937, and this optical progression, turned accompanying fashion statement, hasn’t looked back since.
After the war, soldiers from the 10th brought their mountain expertise and specialized gear back to the states. They developed ski resorts, designed ski lifts, wrote and published ski magazines, became ski patrollers and racers, and improved upon the equipment they used in battle — like goggles. It’s no secret that their goggles were flawed. They were prone to fogging, and soon one orthodontist in Idaho set out to fix that.
It’s no secret that their goggles were flawed. They were prone to fogging, and soon one orthodontist in Idaho set out to fix that.
Bob Smith created the first double-lens, breathable ski goggle while sitting around his kitchen table using his dental tools, foam and glue. He and his friends would trade these first-generation Smith goggles for lift tickets until inking a manufacturing deal. Smith quickly became the skier’s eyewear brand, pushing innovation around goggle ventilation, interchangeability and polarization. From 1989 to 1998, Smith Optics developed exclusive polarized lens technologies, in addition to numerous international patents, — including the V3, an all-time bestseller with the first wrap-around-lens, and Warp, the first ski goggle designed to be worn with a helmet.
More than seventy-five years after introducing the first anti-glare eyewear, Ray-Ban continues to progress the category with innovative materials and techniques through its Ray-Ban Tech line of sunglasses and frames. Based in the mountain town of Ketchum, Idaho, Smith Optics has also led the active eyewear category for fifty years thanks to its goggle-focused technologies and advances in active sunglasses.
Written by Justin Gural. Additional contribution by Ben Bowers and Eric Yang