Few sunglasses have occupied such a storied place in American culture and history as Ray Bans.
From Presidents to movie stars, rock stars to artists, fashion designers to runway models, there's not a generation alive that can't remember owning (or wanting to own) a pair of these iconic sunglasses.
While Ray Bans now can be seen on the next generation of Hollywood style setters, the famed sunglasses had a much more practical and humble beginning.
Founded in 1937 by Bausch & Lomb, the first Ray Ban sunglasses were created for the U.S. Army Air Corp. The Army was looking for a sunglass to protect aviators from the damaging rays of the sun, but also a sunglass that would look elegant on the dashing airman of the day.
Douglas MacArthur in Ray-Ban Aviators
On May 7, 1937 Bausch & Lomb officially took out the patent on the Ray Ban aviator sunglass.
The first sunglass to incorporate an anti-glare lens, the metal frame was extremely lightweight and made from gold-plated metal with two green lenses that filtered out UV rays.
The U.S. Army Air Corps pilots instantly took to the sunglasses, earning Ray-Bans the moniker "Aviator Glasses" -- a term which now describes all sunglasses with designs that are similar to the original Ray-Ban.
The Ray-Ban aviator achieved broader popularity during WWII, when General Douglas MacArthur was photographed in Ray-Ban aviator glasses landing on the beach in the Philippines.From their pragmatic beginnings offering airman protection from the sun, Ray-Bans quickly became part of American fashion and popular culture when, in 1952, Ray Ban broke from traditional metal frames and created hard plastic frame called "The Ray-Ban Wayfarer."
Now considered a revolutionary moment in eyewear design, the Wayfarer quickly gained popularity among both the fringe and the well-heeled -- crossing socio-economic and cultural borders -- and appealing to a mass market that included debutantes and beatniks.
Ironically, the original Wayfarers were intended to be marketed to men ... until women fell in love with the sleek, shiny design that seemed to flatter any shape of face.
Soon the sunglasses began to turn up on everyone from Presidents and fashionable women to folk musicians and East Village Hipsters. Wayfarers were got a PR boost in when Audrey Hepburn's Holly Golightly practically lived in her Wayfarers in the 1961 movie Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Throughout the 50s and 60s, Ray Ban Wayfarers were the sunglass of choice for everyone from Bob Dylan, to Andy Warhol, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Roy Orbison, John Lennon and countless average American teenagers who just wanted to look cool on the beach.
Ray-Bans popularity waned in the Seventies as the disco era ushered in more extravagent eyewear, and designers like Dior and Yves St. Laurent entered the eyewear market.
In the mid-70s, Ray-Ban introduced a line of "disco" inspired sunglasses in the mid-seventies, but it fell flat. However, a resurgence in popularity was just around the corner.