Did Benjamin Franklin really invent bifocals?

The headline of this post challenges an assumption that many of us have held for as long as we can remember—that bifocals were invented by one of the truly great early Americans, Benjamin Franklin.

Photo by: wallyg

Well, you can rest assured. The purpose here is not to debunk that claim, or to “bust the myth” as they say on TV. This post is in fact about all the evidence supporting the belief that the same Founding Father who discovered a relationship between lightning and electricity, invented the odometer and was the first to map the Gulf Stream, also came up with one of the most important devices in the history of vision enhancement. (He really was quite an amazing fellow!)

I recently came across a treasure trove of evidence that is enough to make a believer out even the most profound skeptic. In fact, the site, antiquespectacles.com, has an entire page devoted to sharing proof that Franklin conceived of bifocals as a way to help himself see better (he referred to them as “my double spectacles.”)

The evidence is compelling, and even a cursory scan is enough to convince you that when it comes to bifocals, Franklin got there first. It includes correspondence to Franklin from his optician discussing the challenges of making the bifocals (they were repeatedly breaking in the optician’s hands) and anecdotes from several of Franklin’s contemporaries (including Thomas Jefferson) in which Franklin is credited with their design, and much more.

“Bifocals are attributed to Ben Franklin and he probably came up with the idea by himself,” the author concludes. “He did not produce them himself but instead had some optician in London or France make them for him. Franklin and his close circle of friends…all probably wore them.”

In other words: this myth is confirmed!

One thought on “Did Benjamin Franklin really invent bifocals?

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