*Post written by James Wethington, library assistant of the University Archives and Special Collections.
This prosthetic eye is from Harry Thompson’s collection. He is a former Indiana State Representative and State Senator, from 1969 to 1976. It is unknown why Thompson had this prosthetic eye; however, it was from the American Optical Company.
American Optical began in 1826 with William Beecher, who was trying to become an apprenticeship as a jeweler in Rhode Island and returned back to Southbridge, Massachusetts; however, it was not until after Beecher needed to glasses that he realized he could make a better quality and local (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016). American Optical grew tremendously and it set an international office in London, United Kingdom in 1905; however, the Southbridge office had been employed two thousand and brought in one million dollars (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016).
As their name became prominent in the industry, they created the earliest form sunglasses, sunwear, and goggles. For instances, American Optical obtained the rights to the Crookes glasses; moreover, they updated them by studying ultraviolet protection and make their glasses usable for outdoor use (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016). During the 1930’s to 1940’s, American Optical supplied the United States Air Force “… with aviator goggles” and “… prescription-polarized sunglasses” (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016).
American Optical played a major part in the World War efforts. For example, during the First World War, they “… designed and built eight mobile optical units to support U.S. troops and Allied Forces in Europe during WWI”; the same happened during the Second World War (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016). They were developing new products, which supplied ” … the US Government with new products including gun sights, bombsights, AR glass, aviation goggles, sunglasses and precision optics for military and instrument applications” (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016).
American Optical continues to work and remain an icon in the optical industry, as well as Americana. Their product have been seen in cinema, such as Top Gun and Easy Rider, and their Original Pilot Sunglass hold the honor as “… the first ever sunglass to land on the moon worn by Commander Neil Armstrong and the crew of Apollo 11 in 1969” (“History of AO Eyewear, Inc.,” 2016).
The prothesic eye can be viewed with your own two eyes this wonderful piece at the University Archives on the 3rd floor of Rice Library.
History of AO Eyewear, Inc. (2016). Retrieved January 9, 2017, from http://aoeyewear.com/history/