Oakley, the sportshade-to-softwear brand, was started in 1975 by Jim Jannard. He made handlebar grips for MX motorbikes. Five years later he created a pair of goggles which he called the O-frame. In 1984 the company’s fortunes were transformed by the release of Eyeshades, the ‘Factory Pilot’ shades popularised by Greg LeMond and Andy Hampsten.
Oakley’s were famously wraparound, had a sweat-absorbing pad and came with lenses available in lots of colours. All highly original.
Well, except a very Oakley-like set of shades existed in the mid-1890s. Unlike these bicycle aerobars from 1896, the Lamb Eye Shield was a commercial product, advertised in cycling magazines. I spotted this advert in a copy of the League of American Wheelman’s ‘Good Roads’ magazine of 1897.
Benjamin Lamb of Boston, USA, filed a patent for his eye shield in 1891 and this was granted in 1895. He invented the product for use when “driving”, and by this he means the driving of a horse and carriage. The popularity of cycling in the 1890s gave Lamb a new market.
The Lamb Eye Shield was “light, flexible…” and available with lens colours “clear, green, blue or smoke.” The lens was made from flexible sheet mica, a plastic laminate.
In his patent, Lamb said his Eye Shield “prevents interference with the sight in any direction, while the eyes are protected from heat by the non-conductive nature of the material forming said lenses, and from dust or snow or other flying particles.”
Mica was used because “such material, possessing no magnifying qualities, the sight is not thereby interfered with. Moreover, all danger from breaking the lenses as when glass is used is overcome.”
Lamb’s Eye Shield was made from fabric, with felt padding, and had “ventilation openings” to “prevent moisture from the face from collecting in the inner side of the lenses, and injury to the eyes from confining the air which would gradually become heated by contact with the body of the wearer.”
Lamb came from a Boston wealthy family, and had the money to advertise his product in 1897. According to a listing in the New England Telephone and Telegraph Company directory, the Lamb Eye Shield Company was still trading in 1900.