American Optical Eyewear, Inc. has been making eyewear right here in the US of A since 1833. It can trace its origins back to William Beecher in 1826 and you can read their full story here. Other interesting date-related facts worth reading about include their first sunglasses (1876), their introduction of Ulta-Violet protection (1913), and polarized lenses (1940). But perhaps AO, Inc. is most well-known for their association with the US military.
The design of the ubiquitous "aviator" sunglass generally credited to Ray Ban is, its classic egg-shaped glass favored by pilots around the time of the Second World War. Interestingly, pilots did not wear sunglasses while flying at this time, so their popularity had to have been reserved out of the cockpit. The most well-known Ray Ban man at the time? General Douglas MacArthur, of course.
A quick sidenote: the earliest hipsters (and I mean that in the true sense of the word), I have seen sporting aviators are in this photo of Afro-Cuban musicians in NYC from the late 1940s. By the way, that is Arsenio Rodriguez in the dark suit and tie in the center and Machito on the far right. Legendary bandleaders both.
But I digress.
American Optical, too, was producing and supplying aviator sunglasses to the military during World War II. In fact, they had been supplying sunglasses to the military as far back as the First World War, long before Ray Ban existed as a company. It was a fairly common practice for the quartermaster of any given branch of the military to source common goods such as these from multiple suppliers - take a look at the history of military watches some time for ample examples.
1958 saw the introduction of a newly-designed aviator sunglass courtesy of American Optical. And for my money, it is a design classic that surpasses the Ray Ban aviator. Its semi-rectangluar lenses have become almost as iconic as its egg-shaped predecessor. Living up to the modernist axiom of form following function, Flight Goggle 58 (as it was initially known) was/is streamlined and to the point. Their popularity quickly eclipsed that of the other aviator style for much of the subsequent decade, perhaps reaching a figurative and literal high point when they were the first sunglasses on the moon in 1969.
Jim Irwin (in blue) with fellow astronauts
I will leave you with one piece of advice. If you get the itch for a pair, don't settle for any cheap (or expensive) imitations. You can purchase a pair of genuine American Optical Flight Goggle 58s (now called Original Pilot Sunglasses) direct form AO here. They are still made right here in the USA, with every customization option imaginable (within the confines of good taste of course). Be sure to order direct from them, it's worth the few extra dollars to know exactly what you are getting.