Thursday, March 9, 2017

Luxor Goggles

All the poster photos appear
courtesy of EB Meyrowitz

While safety protection of racers in the early days of automotive competition were rudimentary with no seat belts and the use of cloth helmets, from the start racers recognized the importance of protecting their vision from dust. The brand of choice for many early racers was a pair of Luxor Goggles manufactured by Meyrowitz Manufacturing Company which sold by E.B. Meyrowitz Incorporated from its eleven stores in five cities - New York City  (seven stores), Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minnesota and two subsidiaries in Paris and  London and many local distributors nationwide

Emil Bruno (E.B.) Meyrowitz was born in 1852 in the city of Danzig, then part of the Prussian Empire, today known as the Polish city of Gdansk.  Emil graduated from optical college in Russia, and after he served his apprenticeship, he immigrated to America in 1872. In New York City He worked for Benjamin Pike & Sons opticians but also tinkered in his spare time in a workshop in his basement.

Emil and his two younger brothers Oscar and Paul started the Meyrowitz Brothers Company in Albany New York in 1875 before Emil became a naturalized United States citizen in 1878. By 1886 he and his brothers had opened E.B. Meyrowitz Incorporated at 104 East 23rd Street in New York City and later would establish their flagship store at 520 Fifth Avenue.  

EB Meyrowitz Incorporated optician stores in New York City, Paris, London, and Minnesota specialized in custom hand-made eyewear with the last King of France, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, painter Claude Monet (whose glasses were tinted blue) and Winston Churchill all mentioned as past customers. The stores also sold precision vision-related instruments such as microscopes and binoculars along with a line of cameras and offered film processing.

Emil had a curious mind and during his life invented and patented many instruments used in the optical trade. In April 1893 Emil received US patent number 495506A for a perimeter, an instrument used to measure the extent of a patient’s visual field with moving targets. Emil’s invention combined the principles of the existing Landolt and Priestley-Smith perimeters along with “certain novel features peculiar to the improved instrument itself.”

Emil followed his first invention with two more devices for the support of optical testing instruments which received US patent protection in 1897 and in 1898. Also in 1898 Emil received a patent for “a saddle for spectacles” designed “to give the wearers of spectacles relief from the pressure upon the nose due to the weight of the lenses and their frames with a novel device with a pair of pads rest upon the face at the sides of the nose attached to the bridge of any make of spectacles.”
Emil Meyrowitz’ two major inventions were patented during the first decade of the twentieth century; in 1902 he patented an ophthalmoscope which allowed the optician to see inside the eye and in 1907 an ophthalmometer an instrument to measure the curvature of the surface of the cornea.

To manufacture Emil’s many inventions, the brothers set up a factory known as the Meyrowitz Surgical Manufacturing Company in New Jersey, and the three brothers prospered until tragedy struck on Wednesday January 8, 1902.  In a snowstorm as an inbound express train from Connecticut, stopped in the Yorkville tunnel is it waited to enter the overcrowded Grand Central Depot, a second train inbound from White Plains plowed into the waiting express and destroyed its two rear passenger cars.

Oscar Meyrowitz, 47 years old, who had gotten on the express train in New Rochelle, was among the fifteen people killed (two more died later of their injuries). Oscar’s widow filed a $150,000 suit against the railroad (equivalent to $4 million today) but a jury later awarded her just $20,000. The public outcry after the accident led to the construction of the larger Grand Central Terminal and the replacement of steam locomotives with electric units on city routes.     

Two years later, it was discovered that a night watchman at the Meyrowitz flagship store had surreptitiously looted the store and attempted to sell through an auction the $20,000 in stolen merchandise (mainly eyeglass frames) under an assumed name. His crime was discovered when John Schwenger an employee of the firm inspected the goods at the auction and found the ‘EBM’ trademark on the frames. Why the watchman William Cooper did not melt down the gold and sell it instead of trying to auction the frames was never explained.     

Meyrowitz had first advertised goggles in their catalog in 1905 which included a water-roof mask and nose piece for ‘rainy day’ driving but Meyrowitz’ place in racing history was cemented with the issuance on November 11 1907 of United States patent 871762A for “improved construction of goggles, goggles or protecting glasses for the use of motorists and other persons, for preventing dust and particles from entering the eyes particularly to render them more easily applied and removed in use.”  

Over the next 26 years Meyrowitz was issued nine more patents for improvements to his original goggle design.  Through the years, Emil (and in one case an employee) patented different bridge designs, various cushion styles  and methods to attach the cushion to the eye cups, ventilating inlets to prevent fogging, and even a moveable shutter so the wearer could adjust the amount of opening.

Truly, E B Meyrowitz Inc.’s Luxor brand of goggles became the standard of the industry and was sold at air fields, opticians, and sporting goods stores. A 1933 Luxor advertisement modestly proclaimed “there has been hardly a flight of consequence since aviation first began when Luxor Goggles were not worn. This is also true in important motor and speed-boat races. There must be a reason why the leaders of air and track races prefer Luxor.”

All the most experienced Hollywood stunt pilots of their day including Frank Clarke, Roscoe Turner, Al Wilson, Frank Tomick, Elmer Dyer and Garland Lincoln took part in the two years’ filming of Howard Hughes' epic motion picture Hells Angels and all wore Luxor goggles.
Colonel Charles Lindbergh and Art Goebel Jr. both appeared in Luxor print advertisements and Royal Air Force Lt. Sidney Webster wore Luxor goggles when he won the 1927 Schneider Cup air race at 281 miles per hour (MPH). Most famously, aviatrix Amelia Earhart wore Luxor #6 goggles fitted with hand-ground curved lenses, and a pair of her Luxor goggles with a cracked left lens sold at auction in 2011 for nearly $20,000.

The mention of Earhart’s goggles brings up the point that the standard lenses in Luxor goggles, whether flat or curved, while precision ground were not shatter-proof, although “non-shatterable” glass was an option on the model 8 which doubled the standard $18.00 list price. Buyers could also opt for meniscus, or convex-concave, lenses which had the effect of magnification.

Clear or “white” lenses were standard but amber, green or smoked lenses were also available and on special order, EB Meyrowitz Inc. could grind the goggle lenses to match a prescription. Whatever model was purchased, Luxor goggles always came furnished in a metal case engraved the Meyrowitz’ signature which remain a relatively inexpensive collector’s item today; cases usually sell for $50, while the goggles themselves often fetch more than $400.   
Tommy Milton in 1923 wore Luxor goggles with clear (white) flat lenses

Ralph DePalma in 1923 wore Luxor goggles with clear (white) flat lenses

Peter DePaolo in 1926 seated in the Marmon Wasp
wore Luxor goggles with curved lenses that appear tinted

In the world of automobile racing, Meyrowitz boasted a powerful line-up of customers which included the first two-time Indianapolis 500-mile race winner Tommy Milton, the 1924 ‘500’ co-winner LL ‘Slim’ Corum, the 1915 ‘500 winner Ralph DePalma and his nephew Peter DePaolo, who signed a photograph to Emil after this 1925 Indianapolis victory which read in part “Luxor goggles have been with me in all my victories” which was reproduced in advertisements.
Harry Hartz in 1923 wore Luxor goggles with white flat lenses
According to other print advertisements other noted racers such as Harry Hartz, the 1926 AAA (American Automobile Association) national champion, the 1920 AAA national champion Louis Chevrolet, and Cliff Durant also wore Luxor goggles in competition.  

There were of course competitors for Luxor Goggles such as General Optical Co. Inc.’s “Gogglette #3” which were used by drivers that included  the legendary barnstormer Berna Eli “Barney” Oldfield, the inaugural  Indianapolis 500’ winning relief driver Cyrus Patschke, 1916 Indianapolis ‘500’ winner Dario Resta and the 1919 Liberty ‘500’ winner Howard Wilcox.  EB Meyrowitz advertising warned discerning customers to make sure their goggles “have the new red rubber cushions bearing the word Luxor.”

Eventually center-hinged “tank style” goggles which had Triplex laminated flat clear glass and provided a wider field of vision grew in popularity and eventually replaced Luxor goggles. Company founder Emil Meyrowitz passed away at age 85 in 1937 after a two-month illness and the control of EB Meyrowitz Incorporated and its subsidiaries passed to his two sons, Ernest DuPont and Russell Alexander. Paul the youngest of the three original Meyrowitz brothers retired from the firm in 1943 and passed away at age 82 in 1946 in his apartment in New York’s swank Hotel Seymour.

Emil’s son eldest son Ernest also passed away in 1946 at the age of 61 in New Jersey while his brother, Russell born in 1890, died in 1965 in New Rochelle New York. Although no longer owned by family members, the EB Meyrowitz brand still exists; although the three locations in New York City, Paris and London are each owned by separate owners, they all sell a line of custom hand-made eyeglasses and frames. You can visit the three EB Meyrowitz stores websites by clicking the following links

All the black and white driver photographs with Luxor goggles appear courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway collection in the IUPUI University Library Center for Digital Studies


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