Ancient peoples must have needed glasses to aid their vision at some point in life, but the invention did not appear until the close of the thirteenth century. Until that time, those unfortunate people born with defective eyesight, and the aged, had no hope of being able to read or to conduct work that demanded clear vision.
The inventor of spectacles most likely resided in the Italian town of Pisa during the 1280s. He is believed to have been a glass craftsman. Although his exact identity has never been conclusively established, two men, Alessandro Spina and Salvino Armato, coevals and gaffers—glass blowers— are the most likely candidates for the honour. The evidence slightly favors Salvino Armato. An optical physicist originally from Florence, the thirty-five-year-old Armato is known to have impaired his vision around 1280 while performing light-refraction experiments. He turned to glassmaking in an effort to improve his sight, and he is thought to have devised thick, curved correcting lenses.
History records two early references to glasses in Armato’s day. In 1289, an Italian writer, Sandro di Popozo, published Treatise on the Conduct of the Family. In it, he states that glasses “have recently been invented for the benefit of poor aged people whose sight has become weak.” Then he makes it clear that he had the good fortune to be an early spectacles wearer: “I am so debilitated by age that without them I would no longer be able to read or write.” Popozo never mentions the inventor by name. The second reference was made by an Italian friar, Giordano di Rivalto. He preached a sermon in Florence on a Wednesday morning in February 1306, which was recorded and preserved: “It is not yet twenty years since there was found the art of making eye-glasses, one of the best arts and most necessary that the world has.” The friar then discussed the inventor, but without mentioning his name, concluding only with the remark, “I have seen the man who first invented and created it, and I have talked to him.”