The history of the Ray Ban sunglasses begins in 1929. US Army Air Corps Colonel John A. Macready worked with Bausch & Lomb, a Rochester, New York-based medical equipment manufacturer, to create aviation sunglasses. They were designed to reduce the distraction for pilots caused by the intense blue and white hues of the sky.
Specifically, MacCready was concerned about how pilots’ goggles would fog up, greatly reducing visibility at high altitude. The prototype, created in 1936 and known as “Anti-Glare”, had plastic frames and green lenses that could cut out the glare without obscuring vision. Impact-resistant lenses were added in 1938.
The sunglasses were redesigned with a metal frame the following year and patented as the Ray Ban Aviator. According to the BBC, the glasses used “Kalichrome lenses designed to sharpen details and minimise haze by filtering out blue light, making them ideal for misty conditions.” This was the beginning of a long history.
The proper name Ray-Ban means “barrier against rays” (ray banner), which, being reduced to two short and striking words, established a whole paradigm around its brand over the years. It was chosen because it is more attractive than Anti-Glare.
Ray Ban’s most popular models are the Wayfarer and Aviator. During the 1950s, Ray Ban released the Echelon (Caravan), which had a squarer frame. In 1965, the Olympian I and II were introduced and became hugely popular when Peter Fonda wore them in the 1969 film Easy Rider.
The company has also produced special edition lines, such as The General in 1987, bearing similarity to the original aviators worn by General Douglas MacArthur during the Second World War.
In the 1980s the Ray Ban Clubmaster was added to the model line. The Clubmaster has a browline frame and went on to become the third best selling sunglasses style of the 1980s, behind the Wayfarer and Aviator.
In 1999, Bausch & Lomb sold the brand to the Italian Luxottica Group for USD $640m.
Markings and identification
Original Ray Ban sunglasses have some distinctive features. A small “BL” acronym marking is etched into the edge of each lens, and the word Ray Ban can be found on the right lens. The nose pads also carry the “BL” mark.
The phrase “B&L RAY-BAN U.S.A.” can be found embossed on the bridge between the lenses; while there is also “Bausch & Lomb RAY-BAN U.S.A.” printed in long form on the interior of the right arm.
The inside of the left temple is often, but not always, marked with the model number. With the Wayfarer model, the model number is located on the inside of the frame above the right lens; in addition, the Ray Ban lettering was only printed on the right lens of this model with the introduction of the Wayfarer II sunglasses.
These old Bausch & Lomb models, carry the type designation usually on the inside of one of the two ear hooks.
The newer versions of Ray-Ban glasses have slightly different characteristics. So instead of “BL” there is only an “RB” engraved in the left lens. Between the two glasses there is only the brand name “Ray Ban”. On the right bar you can see the brand name and next to it “Made in Italy”. The model name and number are on the left bracket. What remains is the obvious “Ray Ban” lettering in the upper left corner of the right lens. There are also other symbols and letters that were printed on the right lens or written in the left temple.
A diamond on the right lens means that the lenses have been specially coated and are scratch-resistant like a diamond, a P or P3Plus means that the lenses are polarized, and “Polarized” is also written on the left temple.
In addition, there are other text variations on the left and right arm in Special Editions.
Currently Available Ray Ban products
Ray Ban B&L W0641 5 1/4 Olympian Aviator Arista Gold Black Sunglasses w/Case
Ray Ban B&L W2568 G15 ORBS Predator Wrap Gold Sunglasses w/Case US Made
Ray Ban B&L W2843 Silver Frame Green Lenses Bausch and Lomb Sunglasses Made in USA
Ray Ban B&L W1897 Celebrities WQAB Tortoise Color Unisex Sunglasses US Made
Ray Ban B&L 58-14 Wrap Around Aviator Outdoorsman USA Made Sunglasses w/Case
Ray Ban B&L 58-14 Bausch & Lomb Aviator USA Made Green Sunglasses w/Case
Links for Ray Ban sunglasses
Theo’s Vintage Ray Ban Archive of product photos and advertisements