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The New AO

by John White |  | 21 comments

American Optical AO Eyewear

Amereican Optical has a storied history reaching all the way back to 1833. That is when it's founder, William Beecher, began making eyewear out of his jewelery store in Southbridge, MA.

The early glasses frames came from England and from time to time needed repair. They brought them to local jewelers to repair, and that is when Beecher decided that he could make the best eyewear in the world.

Early eyeglass frames

This is interesting, of course, but how does it relate to aviation?

Aviator Sunglasses

In 1903 the first flying machine flew at Kitty Hawk, NC launching the race to build better powered aircraft for flight. This flight launched the pioneer era (1903-1914) for the development of practical airplanes and airships.

World War I (1914-1918) saw the exploding use of aircraft in war and required ever increasing aircraft performance to achieve domination of the skies.

By this time in history the American Optical Company had become a major manufacturer of eyeglass frames and was contracted by the US Government to provide eyeglasses to the soldiers in the field during WWI. 

You can discover more history of the American Optical Company by visting the Optical Heritage Museum in Southbridge, MA.

AO Flight Goggles

The intersection of flying and the American Optical Company comes in during WWI when pilots flying open cockpit aircraft needed protection from aerial debris from engine oil. By the way, that is why they wore those scarfs to wipe the oil off the goggle lenses.

 Early American Optical Flight Goggles


During World War II the American Optical Company once again provided eyewear for the military including aircrews. This is when we see the iconic AO tear drop shaped sunglasses made famous by General MacArthur when he returned to the Phillipines. 

Douglas MacArthur wearing AO tear drop shaped (General) sunglasses

AO Milestone 1958

In 1958 AO introduces the FG-58 (Flight Gear - 58 for the year) which is the Original Pilot style with the more rectangular shape.

By 1965 NASA supplied AO Original Pilot sunglasses to the astronauts like the Gemini 5 crew of Conrad and Cooper:

Concrad and Cooper upon return from the Gemini 5 flight wear AO Original Pilot Sunglasses

 AO Original Pilots were worn by the astronauts on the first landing on the moon in 1969.

AO Eyewear Inc.

In 2007 as the American Optical Company was being sold off in pieces Alan J. McKinley acquired the sunglass division and forme AO Eyewear, Inc.

In 2019 the company negotiated it's sale to the State Optical Company in Vernon Hills, IL. and became part of the Europa Eyewear.

Europa has decided to relaunch the AO product and has changed the product line substantially. The relaunch was delayed by COVID, but was officially relaunched in August of 2020.

Check out the new Original Pilot Sunglasses.

Check out the iconic Saratoga Sunglasses.

AO Eyewear Relaunch Products

AO has retooled their Original Pilot and General frames, and have brought back the iconic Saratoga sunglasses made famous by John F. Kennedy when he was President.

In some respects the new versions are a throwback to earlier AO days, but the return of production to the US and the experience of Europa in the production of frames have combined to produce a great new line of sunglasses.

American Optical AO Logo circa 1938

AO and Randolph Engineering

In an interesting twist of fate it turns out that the founders of Randolph Engineering worked for the American Optical Company in Southbridge before starting their own company Randolph Engineering, Inc. in Randolph, MA.

You can learn more at The History of Randolph Aviators.

In the meantime keep your wings straight and level Hersch!

JetAviator7 at American Optical AO Eyewear Sunglasses Dealer

All Things Aviation dealer for American Optical AO Eyewear sunglasses

ps: Please share "The New AO" with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.




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