Because Benjamin Franklin never sat down and explicitly described his bifocals as a new invention, controversy exists as to his true priority. However, the indirect evidence for Franklin’s priority is sound and convincing. Now an additional discovery by Alan McBrayer of Charlotte, North Carolina lends strong support to Franklin’s being the true inventor. William Jones (1763–1831) was a well-connected London optician who knew Franklin but also knew such contemporary optical authorities as Benjamin Martin, George Adams Jr, Joseph Priestley, and Nevil Maskelyne. He included “ the bisected glasses of Dr Franklin ” in his list of late 18th century innovations “ entitled to any degree of commendation .” Someone with such insider knowledge surely would have known if anyone other than Franklin had invented bifocals.
Submitted by Charles E. Letocha from the Cogan Ophthalmic History Society.