Saluting the Military’s Influence on Optical

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Last week’s observance of Veteran’s Day got me thinking not only about the crucial role our armed forces play in wartime, but in peacetime as well. In particular, the military, because of its enormous size and vast resources, is a catalyst for change in many fields, not the least of which is vision technology.

As many VM readers may know, the optical industry has been influenced, both directly and indirectly, by research initiated by the military. The earliest, and perhaps most celebrated example is the development of the aviator sunglass. Aviators were developed in the years after World War I when the Army Air Corp. contracted Bausch & Lomb to make a sunglass that could protect pilots from eye strain, particularly while flying at high altitudes. This ever-popular style, which features a teardrop shape that completely covers the eyes, is now hotter than ever thanks to the legions of young men and women who consider it a must-have fashion accessory.

Plastic lenses are an indirect result of military research. During World War II, Pittsburgh Plate Glass, later known as PPG Industries, developed a resin they called CR-39 that the U.S. Army Air Force used to produce lightweight fuel tanks for B-17 bombers. When the war ended, PPG was left with a rail tank car full of CR-39 which they offered to Univis and other companies that were experimenting with casting plastic lenses. Later, Armorlite, SOLA and Lissac, a forerunner of Essilor, successfully produced CR-39 lenses, and the rest is history.

Let’s acknowledge the sometimes overlooked, but considerable contributions that our armed forces have made to the optical industry, and to eyeglass wearers. We salute you.