A History of Presidential Eyewear

The Optical Journal - Optical News With Independent Views

Presidents Day was created in 1885 to celebrate President George Washington. In 1971 Presidents Day was officially created as part of the ‘Uniform Monday’ Act to create ways to give the nation’s workers more 3 day weekends. Abe Lincoln’s Birthday officially is February 12. Other Presidential birthdays in February are Ronald Reagan and Harrison of whom we don’t celebrate.

1.) George Washington (1789-1797)

Article from American Optical 1918 Publication,
courtesy of the Optical Heritage Museum

2.) John Adams (1797-1801)

3.) Thomas Jefferson (1801-1809)- Thomas Jefferson may have made a name for himself as a great thinker, reader and writer, however this did not exempt him from vision problems. Despite having declared his vision to be his faculty least impaired by age, Jefferson had a history of using eyeglasses for reading. It is not hard to imagine why: the hours on end he must have spent reading and writing by candlelight at Monticello would exhaust even those with twenty-twenty vision. He went through numerous pairs of glasses in his lifetime, searching for the perfect fit. During the second term of his presidency, he enlisted the help of Philadelphia optician John McAllister, from which a two-year correspondence grew. It would take about two weeks to produce a frame, which Jefferson would at times reject. In an effort to create a pair that would satisfy him, he began to become actively involved in the spectacle’s design. After exchanging ideas with McAllister, a design was reached that would effectively achieve the benefit of trifocals. (Source and more info)


4.) James Madison (1809-1817)

5.) James Monroe (1817-1825)

6.) John Quincy Adams (1825-1829) More at Optical Heritage Museum


7.) Andrew Jackson (1829-1837)-  This pair has silver rims with adjustable earpieces. Inside one temple is engraved “Gen. A. Jackson”; on the other is “McAllister, Philad” and the number 16. The Inscription “Gen. A. Jackson” is visible in the photograph. They were stolen in 1978 while on exhibit in the Hermitage mansion. These eyeglasses were originally acquired from Andrew Jackson’s great grandsons in 1921. Source Antique Spectacles


8.) Martin Van Buren (1837-1841)

9.) William H. Harrison (1841)

10.) John Tyler (1841-1845)

11.) James K. Polk (1841-1849)

Jame Polk Eyewear./www.antiquespectacles.com
Jame Polk Eyewear./www.antiquespectacles.com; Octagonal frame, crank bridge, in a metal case, circa 1840’s

12.) Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)

13.) Millard Fillmore (1850-1853)

14.) Franklin Pierce (1853-1857)

15.) James Buchanan (1857-1861);  ‘One of Buchanan’s eyelids twitched, which, combined with his personality (in 1825, at least) led a modern Jackson biographer to describe Buchanan as a “winking, fidgeting little busybody’ Source

16.) Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) (More at Optical Heritage Museum)


17.) Andrew Johnson (1865-1869)

18.) Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877)

19.) Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881)
20.) James A. Garfield (1881)

21.) Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885)
22.) Grover Cleveland (1885-1889)


23.) Benjamin Harrison (1889-1893)
24.) Grover Cleveland (1893-1897)
25.) William McKinley (1897-1901)
26.) Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) Other Eyeglass References: at History Biz


27.) William H. Taft (1909-1913)
28.) Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921);  Wilson had an annoying habit of busily polishing his eyeglasses while people were talking to him (Source

29.) Warren G. Harding (1921-1923)
30.) Calvin Coolidge (1923-1929)
31.) Herbert Hoover (1929-1933) (Optical Heritage Museum)


32.) Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945)
33.) Harry S. Truman (1945-1953)


Harry Truman
Harry Truman

34.) Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) Optical Heritage Museum) – In 1947 General Eisenhower corresponded with Dr. Malcolm Grow about whether he might benefit from using prescription Polaroid sunglasses, either bifocal or single-vision, for hunting. 

35.) John F. Kennedy (1961-1963)  (More at Optical Heritage Museum) More JFK Eyeglasses here.


36.) Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): Optical Heritage Museum:  The Museum Collection of the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum holds over 50 pairs of eyeglasses owned by President Johnson.  The majority of the frames are plastic and contain glass bifocal lenses, but a few frames contain single vision lenses.  Several different eyeglasses manufacturers are represented in the collection including; American Optical, Bausch & Lomb, Victory and Bylite.

The eyewear collection also contains several pairs of contact lenses used by President Johnson during his presidency.  In addition to the individual pairs of contact lenses in their cases, the collection contains a small contact lens kit used by LBJ while he was on the campaign trail.  The kit includes one pair of hard contact lenses, a bottle of lens lubrication issued by the U.S. Naval Dispensary in Washington, DC, and two small rubber suction cups to aid in the installation of the lenses.  Most of the contact lenses were manufactured by Frontier of the Northeast, Inc/Frontier Contact Lenses.

President Johnson was the first U.S. President to wear contact lenses, starting in 1964.

1968 photo showing LBJ with his glasses
1968 photo showing LBJ with his glasses

37.) Richard M. Nixon (1969-1974) Richard Nixon wore glasses, but not in public
38.) Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)
39.) Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
40.) Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)-  ‘He says: “…after moving to Hollywood I enthusiastically became a guinea pig for some of the first pairs of contact lenses available in this country.  They were big, rigid, and fit over the whites of your eyes like a pair of football helmets and weren’t much fun to wear…”  He goes on to describe the lenses, how they were worn, and how he generally couldn’t use them on film set/
41.) George H. W. Bush (1989-1993)
42.) Bill Clinton (1993-2001)
43.) George W. Bush (2001-2009)
44.) Barack Hussein Obama (2009-Present)

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