In celebration of Presidents’ Day, we thought we would show some of our presidents and their eyewear. Presidents’ Day was created in 1885 to celebrate President George Washington. Officially February 22, is still known as Washington’s Birthday. Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday officially is February 12. In 1971 Presidents’ Day was officially created as part of the Uniform Monday act to create ways to give the nation’s workers more 3 day weekends, so we, therefore, celebrate Presidents’ Day on the third Monday of February every year.
Thomas Jefferson may have made a name for himself as a great thinker, reader and writer, however this did not exempt him from vision problems. Despite having declared his vision to be his faculty least impaired by age, Jefferson had a history of using eyeglasses for reading. It is not hard to imagine why: the hours on end he must have spent reading and writing by candlelight at Monticello would exhaust even those with twenty-twenty vision. He went through numerous pairs of glasses in his lifetime, searching for the perfect fit. During the second term of his presidency, he enlisted the help of Philadelphia optician John McAllister, from which a two-year correspondence grew. It would take about two weeks to produce a frame, which Jefferson would at times reject. In an effort to create a pair that would satisfy him, he began to become actively involved in the spectacle’s design. After exchanging ideas with McAllister, a design was reached that would effectively achieve the benefit of trifocals.
John Quincy Adams was farsighted with a +3.59 and +3.50 in these eyeglasses.
Andrew Jackson’s eyeglasses had silver rims with adjustable earpieces. Inside one temple is engraved “Gen. A. Jackson”; on the other is “McAllister, Philad” and the number 16. The Inscription “Gen. A. Jackson” is visible in the photograph. They were stolen in 1978 while on exhibit in the Hermitage mansion. These eyeglasses were originally acquired from Andrew Jackson’s great-grandsons in 1921.
Abraham Lincoln was known to be a voracious reader and was drawn with reading glasses numerous times. Here are a pair of his eyeglasses that as photographed from American Heritage and the Raleigh DeGeer Amyx Collection.
Teddy Roosevelt was nearsighted and wore eyeglasses from age 13 onward. Optically, he is most famous for wearing Pince-Nez eyeglasses which have no temples and stay on by pressing on the nose. Teddy Roosevelt is the only President with eyeglasses carved as part of his face on Mt. Rushmore.
Woodrow Wilson had an annoying habit of busily polishing his eyeglasses while people were talking to him. He lost vision in his left eye as the result of a stroke in 1906.
Franklin Roosevelt, our longest serving President, so admired his cousin, Teddy Roosevelt, that when he started wearing glasses in college, he deliberately chose a similar Pince-Nez style, which he continued to wear the rest of his life.
Herry S. Truman had a strong Rx for his eyeglasses as shown here in this photo from The Optical Heritage Museum.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)While we remember John F. Kennedy for his youthful exuberance with his family, he was often photographed wearing sunglasses while relaxing in Hyannisport, MA. He also wore reading glasses and was prescribed for bifocals just days before his assassination in 1963.
The Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge, MA, holds over 50 pairs of eyeglasses owned by President Johnson. The majority of the frames are plastic and contain glass bifocal lenses, but a few frames contain single vision lenses. Several different eyeglasses manufacturers are represented in the collection including; American Optical, Bausch & Lomb, Victory and Bylite.
The eyewear collection also contains several pairs of contact lenses used by President Johnson during his presidency. In addition to the individual pairs of contact lenses in their cases, the collection contains a small contact lens kit used by LBJ while he was on the campaign trail. The kit includes one pair of hard contact lenses, a bottle of lens lubrication issued by the U.S. Naval Dispensary in Washington, DC, and two small rubber suction cups to aid in the installation of the lenses. Most of the contact lenses were manufactured by Frontier of the Northeast, Inc/Frontier Contact Lenses.
President Johnson was the first U.S. President to wear contact lenses, starting in 1964.
Since the 60’s, as appearances have become ever more important to Presidential politics, our Presidents have seldom been photographed wearing eyeglasses. Contact lenses have enabled them to look younger while giving them clear vision doing so. We’ve yet to have a President who looks at eyewear the way many of us do, as an extension of our wardrobe.