Woodrow Wilson
With Presidents Day coming up on Monday, VMAIL Weekend thought it would be an appropriate time to take a closer look at the eyewear-wearing inclinations of our 45 U.S. presidents, which for purposes of this assignment we will call GOTPOTUS, Glasses of the Presidents of the United States (a term we believe Zenni Optical introduced on its blog).
It seems a majority of our presidents found it necessary to utilize eyewear in some aspects of their daily life (usually reading), but only three presidents are known to have been regular wearers of eyewear, according to the Boston Globe (which relied on the official White House portraits as its source). These presidents are: Harry Truman, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

“Many other presidents, including Bill Clinton, wore reading glasses,” the Globe noted in its story on presidential eyewear. In addition, Ronald Reagan was “the first American president to use contacts, which he began wearing during his acting days,” according to the Globe’s report.

The president who, arguably, had the most extensive eyewear collection is No. 36, Lyndon B. Johnson, also known as LBJ. According to the collection assembled by the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum at the University of Texas, there were at least 53 pairs of eyeglasses that President Johnson had in his possession at one time or another.

As 20/20 magazine reported in its November 2016 feature on LBJ’s eyewear, President Johnson was definitely in need of visual correction. “While a man his age would be expected to demonstrate some presbyopia and thus a need for reading glasses—he was 55 when he assumed the presidency— he also suffered from hyperopia, with a distance Rx of +3.50 +1.00 / +4.50 DS,” the 20/20 report noted. “Still, the amount of glasses left behind spoke to something more than just visual correction. After all, how many spares does the average person have—even if that person is the President of the United States?”

Joshua Pitt, museum technician at the LBJ Presidential Library and Museum, told 20/20 that Johnson “frequently kept glasses lying around in case he might need them, especially inside desks and bathrooms and near televisions.” Pitt added, “He was also prone to switching out glasses frequently for reasons unrelated to correcting his vision, such as if he decided that they didn’t look good on him when he was photographed, or appeared on television.”
Although he didn’t have to worry about appearing on television, George Washington, our first president, also was known to wear glasses. According to some tales, Washington wore his glasses in front of his troops so as to give the sense that he was one of them. And he was also known to call upon a lorgnette (French eyeglasses on a stick) for reading, according to the Zenni blog.

Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson also relied on eyeglasses to aid in their vision, and the presidents in the early 1900s were frequently seen with eyewear, including No. 26 Teddy Roosevelt (an Instagram star before its time with his favored pince-nez model), No. 28 Woodrow Wilson and Nos. 30 and 31 Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover.

Theodore Roosevelt
The stories about presidents say that Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to be photographed wearing glasses.
Among the more recent presidents, No. 43 George W. Bush was known to wear reading glasses on occasion, and frequently was seen wearing stylish sunglasses. “He didn’t need glasses for normal vision,” according to the question-and-answer site Quora. “You see Bill Clinton with readers all the time these days, but he did occasionally wear them in office as well. Hillary wore glasses back in college.”

Presidential eyeglasses, and in one instance the accompanying case, also have played a role in history. According to one old story, Teddy Roosevelt’s eyeglass case may have helped to save his life. Roosevelt was running as the Progressive Party candidate for president in 1912 and was on his way to make a speech in Milwaukee, according to the Zenni blog, when a would-be assassin shot him outside his hotel.

“Although the bullet pierced Roosevelt’s skin and lodged against one of his ribs, its trajectory toward the former president’s heart was stopped by Roosevelt’s bulky overcoat, his folded lengthy speech, and (wait for it) his steel-reinforced eyeglasses case,” the blog noted.

Who knew that eyeglasses could make a life or death difference?