Debunking the JFK Wayfarer Sunglasses Myth

The widely held belief that President John F. Kennedy wore Ray Ban Wayfarer sunglasses is just plain wrong.  For the bulk of his time in office, he wore iconic tortoise shell shades, but if you look closely, you’ll see that they’re not Wayfarers.  Look at the metal rivets in this photo from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and you’ll see that his shades have metal details on the sides as well as the front – not so for the Wayfarer.

John F. Kennedy with daughter, Caroline, and one of his multiple pairs of tortoise shell shades

So what model are they?  Well, the Kennedy  Library and Museum holds two pairs of president’s sunglasses in its collection. One contains the manufacturer stamp ”American Optical” along with the model/color marking “True color Polaroid tc74-51”.  The other bears the marking “Cabana TS 2505” and is most likely from the Titmus Cabana sunwear line. These, however, are not the only sunglasses that JFK owned.  Others are in the hands of private collectors.

The sunglasses in this photo most closely resemble a completely different model, the “Mansfield Square,” made by the now-defunct company Universal Optical.  Take a look at the specifications for the “Mansfield Square” in the photo below and you’ll see a striking resemblance to the overall shape and the metal details in photo above.

Mansfield by Universal Optical

Model specifications for Mansfield Square by Universal Optical

Another company, that claims the ownership of his tortoise pair, is American Optical. Here is what we found at Optical Heritage Museum: “The president had a long relationship with the iconic company (American Optical) dating back from WWII while serving in the Navy. AO even had reading glasses made for him”.

JFK wearing AO SARATOGA sunglasses in tortoise

Saratoga sunglasses in black made by American Optical

Saratoga sunglasses in black made by American Optical on display at Optical Heritage Museum, Southbridge, MA






JFK at Saturn Rocket briefing on November 16, 1963

So what about the other sunglasses in the JFK Presidential Library collection?  Well, in the photo above, taken in November 1963, just days before his death, you’ll see Kennedy wearing a distinctly different pair of tortoise shell sunglasses.

Clearly, he didn’t limit himself to just one style.

Oh, and tortoise shell plastic wasn’t Kennedy’s only sunwear choice.  In the early days of his presidency, he wore aviators, as depicted in this photo from June 1961.

President Kennedy arriving to give the Commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy on June 7, 1961



John F. Kennedy Library and Museum: