A treasure trove of optical objects has been collected and stored by Dick Whitney at the Optical Heritage Museum to allow the public to view this world-class collection of frames, lenses, materials, instruments, and safety eyewear.
A labor of love, Whitney promotes the museum on a volunteer basis. He started in the optical business with American Optical (AO) in 1974 and is currently Global Standards Manager with Carl Zeiss Vision Inc.
Most of the collection comes from AO which began in 1833 as a frame manufacturer. To coi
In 1783, Addison Smith was awarded the first spectacles patent for double spectacles which rotated down. In 1797, John Richardson invented four lens spectacles which rotated in from the sides. This American Optical example shown here is unique because it represents a combination of these two eyeglass patents.
Southbridge 1908 meeting of AO, Zeiss and, Bausch & Lomb top executives.
ncide with the company’s 150th anniversary, John Young and other AO employees decided to display the company’s assortment of optical artifacts. The Optical Heritage Museum was born in June 1983 at AO’s world headquarters in Southbridge, MA, a town which calls itself the.“Eye of the Commonwealth.”
In the late 1990s, Whitney assumed responsibility for maintaining the collection. Examples of items the Optical History Museum has include the first early polarized lenses, the first lensometer, and the first U.S. patent for progressives. The museum closed down when the building it was located in was sold. Eventually, Whitney moved the collection to where it now resides on the floor above his office at 368 Main St., Southbridge. In 1999, Whitney started a Web site for the museum (opticalheritagemuseum.org). He’s particularly enthusiastic about the Optical Industry History resources section which he started a few years ago on the Web site. “I’m excited about the online history and online links,” he said. Whitney is seeking financial support from the industry to expand the history section.
The museum is also actively expanding its physical and digital collections. “A lot of the work we’re doing is about preservation and restoration,” Whitney stated. In recent years, he has made substantial progress organizing, preserving, digitizing, and/or reprinting the historical eyewear information. The museum plans to itemize its contents using software it recently purchased and welcomes assistance in this effort.
Education, a central part of the museum’s mission, has been accomplished through various lectures to organizations such as The Vision Council’s Optical Forums. In addition, the National Geographic Television Channel featured World War II polarized lens goggles from the museum’s collection in an August 2010 documentary on the atomic bomb. The lenses were shown on U.S. pilots during a re-creation of their view of the blasts over Japan in 1945.
The museum has also provided historical displays as a backdrop for Transitions Optical Inc. and the Opticians Association of Massachusetts when they each held meetings at the Southbridge Hotel and Conference Center. Last year, organizations such as the Ophthalmic Antiques International Collectors club and the Ocular Heritage Association visited the museum. The Ocular Heritage Association was first formed after visiting the Museum in the 1980s.
Carol Gilhawley is Editor-in-Chief of Optical Lab Products.
MUSEUM OUTREACH The resources of the Optical Heritage Museum are available to anyone. Dick Whitney can provide speakers for lectures and create and ship portable displays to interested groups. In addition, the museum has the books listed below as a CD, which contains pdfs of documents, or for printing on demand.
- 1894 American Optical’s (AO) first catalog (98 pages + 28-page supplement) - 1912 Second AO catalog (348 pages) - May 1916-July 1917 AO/ Wellsworth magazines Volume V No. 1-12 - August 1917-October 1918 AO/Wellsworth magazines Volume VI No. 1-12 - 1919-22 AO/ Wellsworth magazines assorted, July1919 to April 1922 - June 1925-November 1928 AO/ Wellsworth Merchandizer Volume XI – XIII - 1926 AO frames, mountings, and lenses catalog - 1931 AO prescription catalog and price list (134 pages) - 1940-1952 AO Vision Magazines (1940 to 1951—about 12 issues) - 1932-1960 - Optical Journal and Review (various ads and articles) - 1963 Frames catalog which includes 1966, 1967, 1976; also Lenses 1967
Early 1930s’ advertisement.
World War II pilot’s dark adaptation goggles.
Pince-nez glasses from around 1900 with cork pads to rest on the side of the nose. They were invented in France in the 1840s and were in general use from about 1880-1920. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson made them popular. This particular pair are quite unusual because of the hoop spring C-bridge.