Famous Historical Statements, 1801-Present

Famous Historical Statements, 1801-Present

Over the past eight centuries there have been numerous statements recorded in history that are relevant to the topic of vision aids. From all of the reading that has gone into building this website, the following each stand out and are therefore presented for your enjoyment. After reading these you might agree that many examples are interesting and have much significance. Especially place yourself back in time and try to live the actual moment in history which is described.

Date Person Background History Where Image The Statement
July 1804 The Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Duel

In 1800 Burr became engaged in a bitter political struggle with Thomas Jefferson and ended up becoming the Vice President. This led to a vicious hostility between Burr and Alexander Hamilton, then Secretary of the Treasury. That culminated in the fatal duel.

A rocky ledge about twenty feet above the Hudson River in Weehawken was a commonly used dueling ground. Dueling was illegal in New Jersey, as it was in New York, but in this secluded spot duelists were unlikely to be seen. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr were rowed across the Hudson in separate boats, with their seconds, and met at 7am on July 11, 1804. Hamilton's bullet went over Burr's head (probably on purpose), but Burr's struck Hamilton in the side. Hamilton was rowed back to New York, where he died at the Greenwich Village home of his friend William Bayard on July 12, 1804, surrounded by family and friends.

From the book Aaron Burr by  Minnigerade and Wendell, New York, Putman, 1925 Alexander Hamilton, from the Wikipedia website Aaron Burr (1756-1836) painted by James Van Dyck in 1834, New York Historical Society, New York City Alexander Hamilton, granted by the sculptor Kim Crowley, on display at the New York Historical Society “When the parties had taken their places, having their pistols in their hands, cocked…’Stop’, said General Hamilton,’in certain states of the light one requires glasses’. He then leveled his pistol in different directions to try the light. After this, he put on spectacles and repeated the experiment several times; he kept on his spectacles and said he was ready. When the word ‘Present’ was given, he took aim at his adversary and fired very promptly. The other fired two or three seconds after him and the General instantly fell exclaiming,’ I am a dead man!’”
Nov. 1806 President Thomas Jefferson Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third president of the United States (1801-1809) and author of the Declaration of Independence. was one of the most brilliant individuals in history. His interests were boundless, and his accomplishments were great and varied. He was a philosopher, educator, naturalist, politician, scientist, architect, inventor, pioneer in scientific farming, musician, and writer, and he was the foremost spokesman for democracy of his day.  He ordered reading glasses from John McAllister and even sent him the specifications. In a letter to McAllister Thomas Jefferson-style frame, silver, made by John McAllister, after 1806
Spectacles and the letter to John McAllister, Monticello
You have heretofore furnished me with spectacles, so reduced in size as to give facility to the looking over their top without moving them.  This has been a great convenience;”
1825 Sir George Biddell Airy Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-1892) was a British scientist and seventh Astronomer Royal (1835-1881) at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. He was also Professor of Mathematics and Astronomy at Cambridge University. He reorganized the observatory, installing new apparatus and rescuing thousands of observations from oblivion, but his hesitation in acting on the calculations of English astronomer John C. Adams in 1845 somewhat delayed the discovery of Neptune.  He was the first to attempt to correct astigmatism in the human eye (his own) by use of a cylindrical eyeglass lens. He contributed also, in optics, to the study of interference fringes and to the mathematical theory of rainbows. The Airy disk, the central spot of light in the diffraction pattern of a point light source, is named for him.

In the first description of astigmatism correction,   “On a peculiar Defect in the Eye, and a mode of correcting it”.

Sir George Airy, from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland website “I discovered that in reading I did not usually employ my left eye,...it was totally useless,…I observed that the image formed by a bright point in my left eye, was not circular,…but elliptical, the major axis making an angle of about 35 degrees with the vertical….I found also that if I drew upon paper two black lines crossing each other at right angles,…one line was seen perfectly distinct, while the other was barely visible….These appearances indicated that the refraction of the eye was greater in the plane nearly vertical, than in that at right angles to it, and that consequently it would not be possible to see distinctly by the assistance of lenses with spherical surfaces. I found, indeed, that by turning a concave lens obliquely, or by looking directly through a part near the edge, I could see objects without confusion….My object now was to form a lens which could refract more powerfully the rays in one certain plane, than those in the plane at right angles to it…I at last procured a lens to these dimensions,…it satisfies my wishes in every respect….I believe it has generally been found, that where the direction of the axis of the eye is distorted, the sight of the eye is defective, but not lost: and the distortion is by many ascribed to the disuse of the eye, which is occasioned by this defect. If it should be found that the defect is at all similar to that which I have described, it can be perfectly corrected.”
1830 Johann Wolfgang Goethe Goethe (1749–1832) was a German writer, politician, humanist, scientist, and philosopher. As a writer, he was one of the paramount figures of German literature and European culture during and around the 18th and 19th century. In conversation with Eckermann Johann Wolfgang Goethe, from Wikipedia
Johann Wolfgang Goethe\'s spectacles, taken from Clinical Monthly Publication of Eyewear, July 1961, 138, p. 885 (pair on the right may be his wife's
Johann Wolfgang Goethe silhouette, Goethe Society,California
It is well known that Goethe was not a friend of spectacles. It may be one of my peculiarities – he told me repeatedly – but I cannot overcome this aversion. As soon as a stranger enters my room with spectacles on his nose, I experience an ill feeling which I cannot master….The glasses give the impression of a discourteous person to me: as if a stranger on his first encounter would attempt to say something unpleasant to me…If a stranger comes with spectacles, I think right away that he has not read my newest poems.”
1840 Mary Pease In 1831 William Miller, visionary and self-appointed prophet, had predicted that the world would end on April 3, 1843. Over the next decade he gained thousands of followers who believed him, some who even sold all their property and put their affairs in order. When it didn’t end, he revised the date, then he revised the date again and some still believed him and fell into a state of uncontrollable hysteria. When it still did not end, finally the Millerites becan to doubt him and so they split from him and founded the Adventist Church in Lancaster, Me. In a written letter 'William Miller who preached of the world ending in the early 1840\'s, Fruitlands, Harvard, MA I have not purchased any spectacles at present for there is rumor that the world is coming to an end in 1843 and I did not think it was worth a while to spend my money useless”
1855   Regarding Fashion and Dress at the time A quote from Etiquette for Gentlemen or Short Rules and Reflections for Conduct in Society By a Gentleman, Lindsay And Blakiston; Philadelphia Etiquette for Gentlemen "If you have bad, squinting eyes, which have lost their lashes and are bordered with red, you should wear spectacles. If the defect be great, your glasses should be coloured. In such cases emulate the sky rather than the sea: green spectacles are an abomination, fitted only for students in divinity, -- blue ones are respectable and even distingue."
1884 Mark Twain Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835-1910), was an American writer and humorist whose best work is characterized by broad, often irreverent humor or biting social satire. Twain's writing is also known for realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression. At age 49 -in Mark Twain’s Speeches The Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)  House in the historic Asylum Hill section of Hartford, CT, built in 1874'
Mark Twain glasses, circa 1909, Mark Twain Museum
“It was on the 10th day of May 1884--that I confessed to age by mounting spectacles for the first time, and in the same hour I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time.  The spectacles stayed on.”
Circa 1900 George Washington Wells George Wells (1846 – 1912) was one of the founders of the American Optical Co., in Southbridge, Mass. His words were spoken with conviction and then became reality through the examples he set in leadership, diligence, and dedication.

At a meeting of the American Optical Company,  as stated in Vision Aids in History by Eric Muth. 


American Optical ledger book, 4th quarter 19th century, Optical Heritage Museum, Southbridge, MA

 “We will spare no pains until every person who needs them shall have glasses of true scientific merit.”

1915 Dr. Edward C. Bull   In the American Encyclopedia of Ophthalmology  Dr. Edward C. Bull,  Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California "Glasses relieved eyestrain incident to the modern conditions of life…..these veritable boons to mankind have relieved suffering, prolonged years of usefulness, forestalled disaster to the entire organism as well as the ocular apparatus, and added to the sum total of human happiness to a degree which it taxes the imagination to conceive.”
1923 Professor Moritz von Rohr Professor Von Rohr (1868-1940) was a German optical historian who wrote over 500 articles, essays, and reviews on all aspects of optics, including many on the history of spectacles. In 1804 the English physician Wollaston discovered that visual acuity decreases when a spectacle wearer looks through the periphery of the biconvex lenses used at that time, and that meniscus-shaped lenses provided a sharper image. After this discovery, repeated attempts were made to improve the imaging properties of lenses. Finally in 1908 the company Carl Zeiss entrusted von Rohr, a prominent member of its scientific staff  with the exact computation of spectacle lenses. He succeeded in designing a point focal lens in which peripheral blurring was minimized. These computations laid the foundations for today's Punktal lenses from Carl Zeiss. At the end of his famous Thomas Young Oration Professor Moritz von Rohr  “I shall close with the hope that this lecture will help in stimulating historical spectacles studies and throwing thereby on different shadowy periods the light of historical discoveries.

Hopefully our website will also encourage further research.

1937 Dr. Leopold Heine German ophthalmologist and contact lens specialist (1870-1940) commenting on over 1000 cases of contact lens wear he had seen   World's First Contact Lenses, Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany “Ordinary spectacles are unbecoming and they spoil the looks of even the most beautiful women. Care must be taken in fittings so that the contact lens is not too tight for that makes the eyes burn and weep…..”
1946 Professor Vasco Ronchi Professor Ronchi(1897-1988) is best known for the Ronchi Test, a valuable scientific contribution where one can determine the type and magnitude of the aberrations present at the exit pupil of an optical system.  It uses a grating of fine parallel lines to test the deviation of a mirror from its correct figure.Ronchi was a prolific writer and his career was dedicated to three main objectives. The first was the dissemination of optical information in every area of human activity. The second important interest was the history of optics. His third field of activity was in the field of physiological and psychological optics; His dominant concern in later years was philosophical speculation on the basic nature of optics. In his article published in Rivista oftalmologica Professor Vasco Ronchi Much has been written, from the serious to the humorous, about the invention of eyeglasses, but when it is all summed up, the fact remains that this world has found lenses on its nose without knowing whom to thank.”
1983 The Name of the Rose Set in Italy in the Middle Ages, this is not only a narrative of a murder investigation in a monastery in 1327, but also a chronicle of the 14th century religious wars, a history of monastic orders, and a compendium of heretical movements. Umberto Eco’s well-known book. (chapter 7  page 4)  Friar Roger Bacon token, copper
Rivet specs worn by actor Sean Connery for the 1986 movie version of "Name of the Rose"
William slipped his hands inside his habit, at the point where it billowed over his chest to make a kind of sack, and drew from it an object I had already seen in his hands, and on his face, in the course of the journey. It was a forked pin, so constructed that it could stay on a man’s nose (or at least on his, so prominent and aquiline) as a rider remains astride his horse or as a bird clings to its perch. And, one on either side of the fork, before the eyes, there are two ovals of metal, which held two almonds of glass, thick as the bottom of a tumbler. William preferred to read with these before his eyes, and he said they made his vision better than what nature had endowed him with or than his advanced age, especially as the daylight failed, would permit. They did not serve him to see from a distance, for then his eyes were, on the contrary, quite sharp, but to see up close. With these lenses he could read manuscripts penned in very faint letters, which even I had some trouble deciphering. He explained to me that, when a man had passed the middle point of his life, even if his sight had always been excellent, the eye hardened and the pupil became recalcitrant, so that many learned men virtually died, as far as reading and writing were concerned, after their fiftieth summer. A grave misfortune for men who could have given the best fruits of their intellect for many more years. So the Lord was to be praised since someone devised and constructed this instrument. And he told me this in support of the ideas of his Roger Bacon, who had said that the aim of learning was also to prolong human life.”
2002 Glass: A World History It is a narrative history of glass from discovery, through antiquity, the Enlightenment, the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions to the present. It charts the history of the technology but also the enabling effects of glass on such aspects of civilization as experimental science, perspective, astronomy, zoology and all manner of scientific instrumentation - plus the central role of window-glass technology in making the colder north habitable. The authors show how the divergence in glass technology between west and east (China and Japan) explains differential aspects of E/W development. The last chapter develops the intriguing thesis that glass is one of the principal factors in the development of western civilization. From this  book by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin Glass products are everywhere, note the camera lens which took this photo of NYC from the New Jersey side Downtown, New York City Glass products are everywhere, overlooking NYC

Most of us hardly give glass a thought, but imagine waking in a world where glass has been stripped away or uninvented.  All glass utensils have vanished, including those now made of similar substances such a plastics which would not have existed without glass.  All objects, technologies and ideas that owe their existence to glass have gone.

                          We feel for the alarm clock or watch; no clock or watch, however, for miniaturized clocks and watches cannot exist without the protective facing of glass. We grope for the light switch. But there can be no light switch, for there is no glass for the light bulb. When we draw back the curtains a blast of air strikes us through glassless windows. If we suffer from short sight, as we probably do if we are over fifty, we will not be able to read. There are no contact lenses or spectacles to help us.”

Famous Statements HomeBefore 1600 1601-1800 1801 to the present

Home ] Introduction & News ] History & References ] Identification & Preservation ] Public Collections & Virtual Museum ] Interesting Topics ] Education & Games ] Links ] About Us ]