/ /

  • linkedin
  • Increase Font
  • Sharebar

    History lessons from Hamilton's glasses


    The views expressed here belong to the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Optometry Times or UBM Medica.

    Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers of the United States, once declared, “In certain states of the light one requires glasses.”

    Hamilton was not trying to practice optometry without a New Jersey license. He was merely making an observation that would turn out to be one of his last.

    He spoke those words as he called a time-out during his infamous 1804 duel with Vice President Aaron Burr. According to witnesses, Hamilton then fished his glasses from his pocket, put them on, and took some sightings with his dueling pistol, including several aimed Burr’s way.

    It is impossible to know for sure what was going through Hamilton’s head when he did that, but Burr would later say that he took Hamilton’s use of his glasses as a sign of his intent to take deadly aim rather than “throw away his shot” as Hamilton’s defenders insisted was the case.

    Previously from Dr. Brown: 5 things about glaucoma care that frustrate me

    If that were true, Hamilton would have hoped that Burr would reciprocate out of a sense of honor and the duel would end with apologies all around and no one getting hurt.

    Instead, Burr shot Hamilton between the ribs and killed him.

    During a recent trip to New York, I put on my “forensic optometrist” hat and sought answers to some questions I had about Hamilton’s glasses:

    Were his glasses tinted?

    Concave or convex lenses?

    Why did Hamilton put on his glasses in the first place?

    Did Hamilton buy them online or from a reputable brick and mortar optician like John McAllister in Philadelphia? (Ha, just kidding with the last one, but I made you look!)

    Were they tinted?

    Hamilton faced Burr from the northern side of a bluff in Weehawken, NJ, that overlooked the Hudson River. From the way the bluff was angled toward the east, it is possible that Hamilton would have been bothered by glare from the early morning sun bouncing off the water.

    Related: Real-life office policies for ODs

    But while all witnesses agreed on the fact that Hamilton put on his glasses, not a single one mentioned a tint.

    It seems to me that an unusual detail like that would have stuck in somebody’s memory.

    So, I’m thinking no on the shades.

    Michael Brown, OD, MHS-CL, FAAO
    Dr. Brown has practiced medical optometry in a comanagement center and with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic in ...


    You must be signed in to leave a comment. Registering is fast and free!

    All comments must follow the ModernMedicine Network community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated. ModernMedicine reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part,in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

    • No comments available

    Optometry Times A/V