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JFK's Executive Bifocal order.
JFK's Executive Bifocal order.

Optical Heritage Museum

Field review by the editors.

Southbridge, Massachusetts

Housed in the hometown of American Optical, which once was the world's preeminent manufacturer of eyeglasses. Much of the collection, some of it from an earlier museum, was saved by curator Dick Whitney, who worked for the company in Southbridge until it closed in the 1990s.

The museum exhibits all kinds of lenswear, of course, but also displays mass-produced optician office art, and has a showcase of "Eskimo Sunglasses," carved from wood and bone. The "Eye for an Eye" exhibit notes that the company went into the plastic eyeball business when the supply of glass eyes from Germany vanished during World War II. In another display, the American Optical Hobby Kit promises its recipients: "Become a Junior Optical Engineer -- earn a beautiful diploma-like certificate."

Glass eyes to help win the war.
Plastic eyes to help win the war.

President Kennedy was so impressed with American Optical's stylish "Executive Bifocals" that he ordered three pairs. The display notes that, unfortunately, they arrived at the White House the day he was assassinated.

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Optical Heritage Museum

12 Crane St, Southbridge, MA
Behind and across from the Flatiron Building on Crane St.
W-F 10-4 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Giant Eye GlassesGiant Eye Glasses, Southbridge, MA - < 1 mi.
Largest Cuckoo Clock in New EnglandLargest Cuckoo Clock in New England, Sturbridge, MA - 4 mi.
Grave of Grizzly AdamsGrave of Grizzly Adams, Charlton, MA - 5 mi.
In the region:
Memorial to Little Bett the Elephant, Chepachet, RI - 22 mi.

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