As celluloid became an increasingly popular frame material—first used in the U.S. by Spencer Optical in 1876—it was commonly known as “shell,” an imitation of more expensive tortoiseshell. By 1900, DuPont introduced Zylonite, a thermoplastic that was known as cellulose nitrate that had three great properties: it held its shape, could be easily colored and was fade resistant.
By the mid-1950s, several U.S. manufacturers addressed the biggest problem with cellulose nitrate, flammability. In developing a multicolor extrusion process to produce cellulose acetate sheets, American Optical and Eastman Kodak created a short frame production process and a material that didn’t fade to yellow, a common issue with cellulose nitrate.
Usher in World War II, when a range of colors used in plastic eyewear multiplied thanks to American companies such as Victory Optical and Kono Manufacturing Co., which started to use more color in advertising as well.
These Kono ads—striking against the usual black and white ads of the time— ran in 1943 in the Optical Journal and Review of Optometry. Featuring the popular victory roll hairstyle of the 1940s, the ads touted the company’s line of colorful Winger frames, marking a shift from needing eyewear to wanting fashionable frames that are “designed to enhance the wearer’s appearance.”
Courtesy of the Optical Heritage Museum, OpticalHeritageMuseum.com.