Bet You’ve Never Seen Hyrum Smith’s Funky-Looking Specs Before

Portrait of man wearing curious specs.
Full transparency: This is not Hyrum Smith, this is a painting of Nathaniel Olds by Jeptha Wade. He and Hyrum just liked the same style of eyeglasses.

Man, I gotta say, you learn something new every day. Today’s fun factoid appeared on my Twitter feed. The tweet was captioned, “If you can believe it, these glasses belonged to the Mormon preacher Hyrum Smith in 1844.” What followed, as you see below, were a rather odd-looking pair of glasses.

“Oh great,” I thought, “another reason for people to think the Latter-day Saints are bonkers.” But it turns out these spectacles were good for much more than watching a 3D movie or reading an invisible map off the back of the Declaration of Independence.

Funky specs

The spectacles in the Tweet are on display at the Church History Museum along with the clothing Hyrum was wearing when he was killed in Carthage, Illinois.

But what are they? A more modern Urim and Thumim? What do they do? Sorry to disappoint, there’s actually nothing religious or mystical about these glasses. They were just Hyrum’s prescription sunglasses. In fact, Brigham Young had a similar pair:

Brigham Young's sunglasses.
Brigham Young’s sunglasses, on display in the Church History Museum.

And if you’re still weirded out, check out the gallery below that features some of Hyrum and Brigham’s contemporaries, including President Andrew Jackson, sporting similar specs:

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According to the College of Optometrists,

The idea of supplementary lenses was first introduced by Richardson’s patent of 1797, in which two side lenses hinged to the eyerims and could be folded over the main lenses to combine the powers of the two.

“Out of this idea grew the concept of side visors.

“In the nineteenth century rail travel began with a passengers being carried in open-top carriages with the wind, funnel smoke and sparks from the track in their faces. A particular type of protective spectacles with D-shaped lenses arose shortly before this time and came to be known as ‘Railway spectacles’. Sometimes such spectacles had tinted lenses and can be seen as early sunglasses in that they were for outdoor use. Later examples may have a horseshoe shape.

Now you know! Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

David Snell is a proud member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He's the Founder of The Sunday Pews, and has experience writing for Mormon Newsroom Pacific, KBYU11, Classical 89 Radio, and plenty more. He tries not to take himself too seriously and just wants to brighten your day a bit.