Our Story

Our Story

True Original… Since 1833

True Original… <i>Since 1833</i>
Before the invention of the car. Before the radio. Before typewriters, elevators, and telephones. Before electricity, in 1833, American Optical was already helping people see the world.
Before the invention of the car. Before the radio. Before typewriters, elevators, and telephones. Before electricity, in 1833, American Optical was already helping people see the world.

The oldest and greatest optical company in American history has pioneered optical and eyewear innovation for centuries. AO’s founders believed everyone should have access to eyewear, not just the elite, and changed history by bringing spectacle manufacturing to the US. Since then, AO has originated sunwear styles worn by pilots, Presidents, and NASA space crews.

Still committed to independent thinking. Still made in America. Still focused on the future, AO continues to set the standard for American eyewear.

For almost two centuries now, AO has stood as a symbol of American ingenuity, and we’re just getting started. Our pride in AO’s heritage is matched only by our pride in our team’s commitment to craftsmanship and customer service. In our state-of-the-art American factory, AO produces the quality, classic eyewear that defines True Original style.

Still committed to independent thinking. Still made in America. Still focused on the future, AO continues to set the standard for American eyewear. Still committed to independent thinking. Still made in America. Still focused on the future, AO continues to set the standard for American eyewear.
The General in Rose Gold with Cosemtan™ lenses
The General in Rose Gold with Cosemtan™ lenses
The General in Rose Gold with Cosemtan™ lenses
Saratoga in Yellow Crystal with True-Tone™ lenses
Saratoga in Yellow Crystal with True-Tone™ lenses

From the Archives… AO through the centuries

American Optical has been trailblazing breakthrough technologies and shaping the world of eyewear fashion with some of the most iconic sunglass styles for nearly two centuries.
1833
Founded
Founded

Founder William Beecher begins crafting silver spectacles after apprenticing as a jeweler.

Founded
Founded
1833
1843
First Steel Frames
First Steel Frames

Beecher is the first in the US to produce a pair of steel eyeglasses.

First Steel Frames
1843
1872
Eyewear For Everyone
Eyewear For Everyone

Patented technological advancements by AO make eyeglasses affordable to the masses.

Eyewear For Everyone
1872
1874
Eyewear goes Rimless
Eyewear goes Rimless

American Optical produces the first rimless spectacles.

Eyewear goes Rimless
1874
1892
World Leader
World Leader

AO becomes the largest optical company in the world with 800 employees producing 2 million pairs of glasses and 3 million pairs of lenses.

World Leader
1892
1900
US Military Goggles
US Military Goggles

AO is the first company to supply goggles to US military pilots.

US Military Goggles
1900
1917
WWI
WWI

American Optical runs Mobile Field Units that help supply members of the military with eyewear.

WWI
1917
1927
Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell

American Optical commissions Norman Rockwell to create six paintings depicting opticians and AO Eyewear.

Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell
1927
1930
Aviation Legend
Aviation Legend

Aviation pioneer Jimmy Doolittle wears AO flight goggles on a record-breaking transcontinental flight.

Aviation Legend
1930
1930
Ful-Vue
Ful-Vue

AO debuts the Ful-Vue frame, moving the temple from the center of the lens to the top, giving better peripheral vision and revolutionizing the look of eyewear.

Ful-Vue
1930
1935
Aviator Sunglasses
Aviator Sunglasses

The U.S. Army Air Corps contracts American Optical to produce a pair of specially designed sunglasses for aviators. The classic aviator shape is born, featuring USAAC branding.

Aviator Sunglasses
1935
1942
WWII
WWII

AO supplies over 5 million sunglasses and 10 million goggles to the military during WWII.

WWII
WWII
1942
1942
Polarized Sunglasses
Polarized Sunglasses

AO launches Cool-Ray sunglasses. Designed in cooperation with Polaroid, the sunglasses introduce polarization to the market.

Polarized Sunglasses
1942
1943
American Heroes
American Heroes

Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower and General Mark Clark are pictured wearing AO frames.

American Heroes
1943
1949
Global Popularity
Global Popularity

King Paul and Queen Frederica of Greece order glasses from AO and Pope Pius XII receives a pair of gold spectacles in a gold case.

Global Popularity
1949
1952
Entering the Fashion Scene
Entering the Fashion Scene

AO partners with Claire McCardell, considered the creator of American sportswear, to create the first line of sunglasses designed by a fashion designer.

Entering the Fashion Scene
1952
1952
Athletes Love AO
Athletes Love AO

American Optical gifts Major League Baseball player Ted Williams, Olympic gold medalist and former MLB and NFL player Jim Thorpe, and world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Sharkey with sunglasses at the 1952 Boston Sportsmen’s Show. Williams bought 12 more pairs to share with his fishing buddies.

Athletes Love AO
Athletes Love AO
1952
1955
Eyewear Meets Haute Couture
Eyewear Meets Haute Couture

AO partners with Elsa Schiaparelli, rival of Coco Chanel, to design a luxury line of sun and eyeglass frames. These frames were famously distinctive and detailed, featuring precious gems.

Eyewear Meets Haute Couture
1955
1958
A Visit from JFK
A Visit from JFK

JFK, who’s favorite sunglasses were made by AO, gives a speech in Southbridge, MA, the original home of American Optical.

A Visit from JFK
A Visit from JFK
1958
1958
FG-58
FG-58

American Optical creates the iconic FG (flight goggle)-58 for American military pilots. The name of the style is eventually changed to The Original Pilot.

FG-58
1958
1969
Moon Landing
Moon Landing

The Original Pilot (then known as FG-58) are the first sunglasses on the moon, worn by the entire Apollo 11 crew. A pair from the moon mission is now on display at the Smithsonian.

Moon Landing
Moon Landing
1969
1975
Oscar de la Renta
Oscar de la Renta

AO partners with designer Oscar de la Renta who designs enormously successful eyewear for the company.

Oscar de la Renta
1975
1976
Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver

A favorite amongst celebrities, the Original Pilot is worn by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.

Taxi Driver
1976
1983
Optical Heritage Museum
Optical Heritage Museum

The Optical Heritage Museum opens honoring AO’s 150th anniversary.

Optical Heritage Museum
1983
2019
A New Home
A New Home

AO manufacturing moves to Chicago, IL.

A New Home
A New Home
2019
2020
The Next Chapter
The Next Chapter

The Original Pilot, General, and Saratoga are re-released and production begins on a range of new styles.

The Next Chapter
2020
subscribe me

Sign up for updates

The return of the True Original - Summer 2020

Stay Updated!

Sign up to join the world of Eyewear by American Optical.