He invented my glasses

The first of a new series where genealogist Rivka Goldblatt delves into the more interesting corners of the JC Archive

November 13, 2017 16:39

The Jewish Chronicle started in 1841. Why?

We tend to think that before electric light, people went to sleep when the sun set, but that isn’t true. They had parties until midnight or later, just like us.

People would work until dusk, then come home and sit down for a hot drink and something to read. They learned to live in the darkness, with furniture placed at the edges of the room so that no-one would trip on them in the evening.

Enter the gas light. More dangerous, and so much brighter. Almost as bright as the sun, people said. That’s when The Jewish Chronicle sends its first issue to the printing press. Your great-grandfather sees the new newspaper and brings it home to read in his bright, gas-lit study.

I have -9 prescription glasses. When I go to the optician, I know that he can use his tools to figure out the exact lenses I need to see well. In November, 1856 – 161 years ago -  the Jewish Chronicle introduces its readers to a revolutionary invention:


THE " North British Review" for this month contains an elaborate and most interesting article under the title " The Sight, and how to See," which the editor of the " Courant" attributes, we think with justice, " to the distinguished principal of St Andrews" and in which our co-religionist Mr. B. Salom, the optician of Edinburgh, is thus spoken of::—“…Till very lately, no accurate method of determining the proper number has been adopted.

The optician takes up a book, with print of different sizes, and makes the purchaser try several pair of spectacles, and decide upon those which appear to suit him best.

He makes the trial, and generally decides for himself, though we have known cases where the optician decided for him, and insisted upon the purchaser taking a pair of spectacles which gave him pain in using, assuring him, of what never happened, that his eyes would get accustomed to them.

The first person, in so far as we can learn, who constructed and used an apparatus, which he calls a visometer, for determining the focal length of each eye, was Mr. Salom, of Edinburgh…

Since that time the attention of men of science, and of scientific opticians, has been called to the subject, and the method of Mr. Salom is now beginning to come into use, both in England and on the continent.”


The same issue of the Jewish Chronicle introduces two other new inventions, both by what it calls ‘coreligionists’. The first is “healing, by means of the galvanic battery, palsy and lameness” by Dr. Remak.

This is what we know today as electrotherapy, which includes TENS machines.

The second is “a machinery by the means of which it is rendered practicable at one and the same time on one electromagnetic wire to places of different destinations many different dispatches, each of which, without interfering with the other, will arrive at its proper place” invented by a Dr Bernstein-Rebenstein.

This is the beginning of the practical telegraph, though his contribution is long forgotten.

How did they live, then, in that dark, slow, strange world? They lived and dreamed and thought and fought, just like we do today. The world was different, but people are the same.

Rivka Goldblatt is a genealogist specialising in Jewish family history. Her website is here.

November 13, 2017 16:39

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