A Brief History of Ful-Vue Eyeglases

Ful-Vue frames were a major development in the eyeglass industry starting in 1930, and continuing for the rest of the 20th century.

Until the early 1930's, the temples or arms of almost all metal eyeglasses joined the frame at the "centerline", half-way between the top and bottom of the frame, like in the example below. This had been more or less true for hundreds of years, long before glasses came within the reach of the average person. Ful-Vue frames changed all that.

A centerline frame
This rimless frame is a "centerline" design. The temple arms join the frame half-way
between top and bottom of the lens. See how all four screw mounting points are in line?

Enter Ful-Vue Frames

In the late 1920's, the American Optical Company(AO), the largest manufacturer of eyewear and prescription lenses in the world, filed very, very strong patents on their new "Ful-Vue" design. The Ful-Vue idea was to raise the point where the arms joined the frame, taking them up and out of the way of the wearer's side vision. Remember, this is at the same time many Americans were driving cars for the first time, so they were also using rear view mirrors for the first time. The frames were introduced in 1930.

American Optical was convinced that Americans would be safer wearing Ful-Vue frames, as there would be no temple blocking the wearer's view of the rear view mirror. They also thought that America could be convinced they would be more attractive wearing Ful-Vue styles, with no "line drawn across the face" by the arms.

Here is a man wearing an American Optical Ful-Vue Rimway frame. Note how the
temple arms meet the frame well above the centerline?

Marketing the Ful-Vue Line

Armed with a very strong patent and deep advertising pockets, they set out to make Ful-Vue a household word. They took out big ads everywhere for years, shouting out the virtues of this frame design. Did you want to protect your family when driving, and be a better, safer citizen with the superior peripheral vision Ful-Vue frames allowed? Or did you want to be a danger on the road?
Did you want to be attractive in a Ful-Vue frame, or did you want to be plain looking like your neighbors Jane and Tom, who wore old-fashioned, ugly, centerline frames?

By the mid 1930's, if you lived in the U.S, and wanted to be thought of as a responsible citizen and an attractive person, you wore Ful-Vue frames.

The ad campaigns for this frame type were so common and repetitive, sarcastic parody ads and cartoons soon appeared in print. Below is a "spoof" Ful-Vue ad that appeared in print in the 1930's.

An incredibly hokey magazine spoof of Ful-Vue frames from mid-century.


By the mid-'30's, Ful-Vue frames were so popular, that other companies began having trouble selling their old-fashioned "centerline" designs. ArtCraft, Bausch & Lomb, Continental Optical, ShurOn, and others were soon paying American Optical royalties to make their own versions of the growing Ful-Vue line of frames.

The Ful-Vue campaign helped American Optical remain the largest eyeglass manufacturer on Earth. Frame sales doubled from 1930-1940.


Ful-Vue Styles

Ful-Vue Rimway

An elevated temple design, partially rimless, with a single "eye wire" running along
the top of the frame connecting the nose bridge and temples(arms). These frames
had two screws mounting each lens, the outside screw being place higher.

Ful-Vue Numont

Maybe the most graceful of the Ful-Vue line, with the lens held by a single screw at the nose bridge, leaving the outer area of the lens completely free of hardware.

Ful-Vue Rimless
A rimless Ful-Vue mounting with asymetric octagonal lenses
Elevated temple design in a three-piece rimless mounting. We don't see many of these.

Full wire rim eyeglass frame. Popular versions from American Optical were the "Sampson" and "Liner" styles.
A gold AO Panto
A fully-rimmed metal frame with elevated temple arm placement.

How To Identify Ful-Vue Frames

Lucky for us, American Optical was very strict about licensing the right to produce this patented line of frames to other companies. Every major piece of every frame had to bear the manufacturer, the name Ful-Vue, and the official size. Under the eye wires of Ful-Vue frames you will find these impossibly small stamps. Here are a few examples. These are among the easiest frames to identify in the vintage frame world.

American Optical Numont
This is the stamp on a Numont style. The "AO" logo comes first, then "Numont", then "Ful-Vue", followed by the size,
in this case a 44mm.

AO Rimway
This is the stamp for an American Optical Rimway Ful-Vue in a 42mm lens diameter.

This is a licensed Ful-Vue made by Shuron Optical.

This Ful-Vue was made by Bausch & Lomb (B&L) under license permission from American Optical.
This is the Rimway style in a 42mm size.


Sizes & Fitting

People were a little smaller than today when most of the Ful-Vue frames were made, and the frames were styled to be smaller on the face. The range of lens widths, in 2mm steps, was 38mm-46mm. Later in production, 48mm lenses were added. Nose bridges ran from 18mm-26mm, with this measurement being the distance between the lenses.

Ful-Vue Standard Size Chart
(Lens size + Nose width)
1st number is lens width in mm, 2nd is nose bridge width in mm.
Cable Temples Reg. Temples
  38-18 38-20 38-22       5 1/2"-6" 5"
  40-18 40-20 40-22 40-24     5 1/2"-6" 5"
  42-18 42-20 42-22 42-24 42-26   6"-6 1/2" 5"- 5 1/2"
  44-18 44-20 44-22 44-24 44-26   6"-6 1/2" 5 1/4"- 5 3/4"
  46-18 46-20 46-22 46-24 46-26   6 1/4 "- 6 3/4 " 5 1/2" - 5 3/4"
  48-18 48-20 48-22 48-24 48-26   6 1/2 "- 7" 5 1/2" - 6"




Temple arms were 6", 6 1/4", or 6 1/2" as standard lengths, with very short temples down to 5 1/2", and very long ones up to 7" being available on more of a custom order basis.
Temple length is often not marked, but temples will usually be stamped "1/10 12K" along with the maker's name or logo. You may need a magnifying glass for this!

Related posts:

Related links:
Dick Whitney's American Optical Pages
The Optical Heritage Museum

Or click here for our vintage eyewear home page.