How Tom Cruise saved Ray-Ban Sunglasses from extinction

The story of how Ray-Ban Sunglasses came to be begins with John Arthur Macready, an American test pilot and aviator as well as lieutenant in the US army Air Corps who served in both World War 1 and World War 2.

John A. Macready, a real life Top Gun

John was an accomplished pilot. He became the first person ever to fly the world’s first crop duster, as well as setting records for highest altitude, and longest consecutive flight at that time, including the first non-stop coast-to-coast flight, from New York to California.

At this time, in the early 20th century, flight was still a new invention.

As airplane technology improved, new airplanes allowed pilots to fly higher and farther with every improvement.

In 1929, after returning from a balloon flight, John complained that the glare at altitude from the sun was giving him headaches and nausea.

It wasn’t long after this balloon flight that John decided to commission a team of technical design experts to create army pilot goggles for his squadron to combat against glare at altitude.

This is where John Jacob Bausch and Henry Lomb come in. Bausch, a German immigrant to New York, was a trained optician. Lomb, also a German immigrant, was a financier. The duo made the perfect team at this time for John and his pilot goggles idea.

John Bausch and Henry Lomb

In 1936, John A. Macready approached John Bausch and Henry Lomb with his idea. At this time, the duo were creating lenses, binoculars and telescopes at their company Bausch + Lomb.

Shortly after introducing his idea, the very first prototype of these anti-glare goggles was created. In 1937, the design improved and became the patented “Ray-Ban Aviators”. “Ray-Ban” being sun-ray banning and aviators, being who the glasses were designed for: pilots.

In 1938, the very first advertisement for the new sunglasses was created and published. The glasses were now available to the public, not just pilots or airmen.


From the 40's to the late 60's, Ray-Ban saw massive growth.

The product line saw the addition of the Wayfarers and Caravans.

Every iconic celebrity and superstar wore a pair on their face from Humphrey Bogart, James Dean, and Marlin Brando to World War 2 General Douglas MacArthur.

However, during the late 70’s and 80’s, everything changed.

Western trends, styles, and tastes were changing. The 70’s and 80’s saw the introduction of giant designer eyewear. As weird as this sentence is about to sound, disco was killing Ray-Ban.

Despite the fact that people began to wear sunglasses indoors than any other period thanks to disco, Ray-Ban was losing ground.

The sleek, slim look of Ray-Ban sunglasses were out and big, oversized sunglasses were in.

Jackie Kennedy wearing her traditional oversized glasses

Ray-Ban was on the brink of failure.

The popular Wayfarer style only sold 18,000 pairs in 1981 and was about to be discontinued after years of declining sales.

Ray-Ban needed a savior and that savior came in the form of Tom Cruise.

In the early 80’s, Tom Cruise was still an unknown. However, he would wind up appearing in a few movies where Ray-Ban would make an appearance.

In 1982, Ray-Ban signed a $50,000 a year deal to have Ray-Ban sunglasses appear in over 60 movies.

Product placement in films wasn’t exactly a novel idea at this time, but the 80’s was the beginning of massive brands making appearances in big budget movies including E.T. and Back to the Future.

In 1983, Tom Cruise starred in Risky Business. Throughout the movie, Tom Cruise is seen wearing the square-shaped Wayfarer glasses. Sales for Wayfarer sunglasses shot up 50% thanks to Cruise sliding around in his underwear.

I like that old time rock and roll.

Impressive, right?

It was only the beginning. Product placement would go on to serve Ray-Ban very well in both Top Gun and Rain Man.

In 1986, Top Gun was released starring Tom Cruise wearing the iconic Aviator sunglasses. Sales from this film increased 40%.

Then, in 1988, Cruise starred in Rain Man, increasing Ray-Ban’s sales by another 15%.

Disco died and Ray-Ban was quickly back on its feet all thanks to Tom Cruise.

Ray-Ban would continue with product placement (I mean, it worked so well, why would they stop) throughout the 90’s in films such as Reservoir Dogs and Men in Black.

Eventually, in 1999, Luxottica, a major Italian eyewear maker, purchased Ray-Ban.

Today, Ray-Ban remains to be one of the most recognized and popular sunglasses brands in the world.