did any of the Founding Fathers wear glasses?
Benjamin Franklin’s vision had never been very good [x]. Franklin was wearing glasses even by the time he was in his late 20s.
He invented something called “double-spectacles” and would come to be known today as bifocals. In 1784, Franklin wrote to his optician and made a request: take both his long distance glasses and his reading glasses, slice their lenses in half and then suture the lenses together with the reading lenses on the bottom and the long distance glasses on the top. Two decades after Franklin’s death, Thomas Jefferson requested a pair.
After reaching middle age, George Washington had to wear glasses for reading. He used them only in the intimacy of friends and family [x]. The spectacles he wore were heavy and silver and had hinged temples. The lenses are small, circular and were level +3.5. Sometimes Washington also read with a French lorgnette which was given to him via Lafayette:
John Adams, was farsighted. He had basically the same prescription Washington did: +3.50 in his right eye, +3.59 in his left [x]. Adams frequently complained about his eyes. By the end of his presidency “his eyes weakened so that he could barely read or write” [x]. In 1811 Adams reported that he read better since spectacles had been prescribed for him.
Thomas Jefferson reported just months before his death that his eyesight was the faculty the least impaired by age but for many years he had used glasses for reading [x]. Jefferson’s November 1806 letter to John McAllister begins:
“You have heretofore furnished me with spectacles as reduced in their size as to give facility to the looking over their top without moving them. This is a great convenience; but the reduction has not been sufficient to do it completely, yet leave field enough for any purpose.“
The drawing which accompanied this letter diagrammed frames of a narrow, elongated shape with each lens, or “eye glass”, 7/8 inches long with a width of 3/8 inches, and gave the critical center to center measurement of each lens as 2 Â½ inches.
The first note of him wearing eyeglasses is during the 1780s when he was in his forties. There is a pair of green-tinted spectacles on display at Monticello. According to Silvio Bedini, tinted glasses first appeared around 1810. They were not typically used as sunglasses as we might think of them, but “to improve the vision out of doors.”
I do not know much about John Jay’s and eyewear, however his glasses are on display at the Museum of the City of New York. They are an oval frame with adjustable side arms [x].
The first mention of spectacles or glasses from James Madison comes from 1784 in a letter to Thomas Jefferson, “One of my parents would be considerably gratified with a pair of good Spectacles which can not be got here.” He received his first pair of spectacles on March 12th, 1784 [x] on a Thursday. He began wearing eyeglasses in his 30s.
I cannot find much on when Alexander Hamilton first began wearing glasses, however, he did wear his eyeglasses in his duel with Aaron Burr meaning he was probably growing farsighted.
Not too much about James Monroe is known besides the amount of research I’ve previously put into this. The glasses above were his with a rectangular frame, crank bridge, loop-to-loop adjustable sides. He was wearing reading glasses by the time he was president as a primary source anecdote indicates. b