This year on President’s Day, we’re taking a step back from good furniture sales and the advantages of having a three-day weekend to explore a more frivolous — but all the while interesting — topic. In the past 245 years and 46 presidents, only three have worn glasses full-time.
Our 26th president resided in the White House at the turn of the 20th Century and is famously known for his gruff-ness. A statesman, conservationist, naturalist, historian, and writer — Roosevelt grew into his curious life from a sickly childhood with severe asthma, which he would later in life grow out of.
Roosevelt, for the most part, didn’t need glasses throughout his life. It wasn’t until right around the time he took office that he could be seen wearing his famous pince-nez style glasses. Similar to a monocle, pince-nez glasses don’t havethe long arms that extend to just behind the ears. Instead, the frames slightly pinch the bridge of the nose to stay on, hence the name (pince-nez being French for “nose pincer” or “nose pincher”).
In 1912, Roosevelt was saved from an assassination attempt during a speech when the bullet that struck him was slowed down by 50 pages of notes and deflected off of his steel glasses case worn in his breast pocket. Although still wounded, Roosevelt went on to give the speech (that lasted over 84 minutes).
Our nation’s 28th President had quite the career before he took office: from studying political philosophy at Princeton University (then known as the College of New Jersey) to later becoming a professor and president of the same university, and to then going on to be the Governor of New Jersey (not to mention writing several political books along the way). Needless to say, Wilson’s entire being seemed to have revolved around politics.
In 1906, Woodrow woke up one day to find himself unable to see out of his left eye. Upon examination, it was discovered the sudden blindness came as a result of a blood clot and hypertension. While many believed he had suffered a stroke, it was later diagnosed that he was predisposed to the hardening of arteries, as his father had been.
Since that episode, Wilson could often be seen wearing glasses. Like Roosevelt, Wilson favored pince-nez glasses, as they were popular in the era.
Harry S. Truman
Hailing from Independence, Missouri, our 33rd president took us from the final days of WWII and into the early 50s during his time in office.
Unlike Roosevelt, Truman wore glasses since his childhood — after being diagnosed with myopia (commonly known as nearsightedness). According to his biography, Harry’s mother took him to an optometrist after a Fourth of July celebration. Harry could hear the fireworks just fine, but couldn’t make out the spectacular show with his eyes.
Through his childhood and early adult life, Truman wore round, metal or acrylic framed glasses. Yet in his presidency, he would often wear frameless glasses or transparent acrylic frames.
But these three are not alone. While they are the only presidents to have worn glasses full time, several presidents in America’s history wore glasses for reading or even for fashion.
George Washington is said to have needed +3.50 corrective lenses to read in his later years, as was the case for John Adams. John F. Kennedy was often seen sporting AO Saratoga tortoise-framed shades. Lyndon B. Johnson would often switch between translucent plastic frames and half-rim frames. Ronald Reagan was the first president to wear contacts, and Bill Clinton would often need reading glasses. And our newest president, Joe Biden, has often been seen with a pair of aviator sunglasses on.
America is making history every day and our nation’s story is far from being done! With three bespectacled presidents in our past, it’ll be interesting to see who will rise to be future presidents and what eyewear styles they may be partial to.