Arizona-based company produced 100 million glasses & lenses for Monday's big event.
If you haven’t acquired your Great American Eclipse glasses or lenses by now, it’s not the fault of Pat Steele-Gaishin, owner of Thousand Oaks Optical in Kingman, Arizona. Thousand Oaks Optical produced close to 100 million American-made lenses for his company and other major manufacturers throughout the United States.
In addition to the 1 million glasses and viewers manufactured by the company, Steele-Gaishin is responsible for supplying the crucial lens materials for major producers American Paper Optical and Rainbow Symphony.
With nearly 100 million glasses or viewers on the market, it is a wonder that people have been lining up for days to secure solar protection glasses for Monday’s total eclipse of the sun. No one should look directly at the sun during the total eclipse without protective lenses. It is dangerous and can even cause blindness.
Thousand Oaks Optical has been preparing for Monday’s big sky event for more than a year, and other mass producers of eclipse viewing lenses have even been working on production for up to three years.
“That’s part of the problem, because people don’t hear about it until relatively the last minute and realize they need eyewear or lenses for their cameras and telescopes,” said Steele-Gaishin. “We had to quit production on Tuesday because, of course, we couldn’t handle the volume at the last minute and try to get them delivered in time for the eclipse.”
The total solar eclipse is when the moon moves right in front of the sun, covering it completely for a short time. If you are viewing the eclipse from an area in the path of totality, the whole sky will darken and it will seem like nighttime for a maximum of 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Other parts of the country will view a partial eclipse.
The eclipse will first be viewed in the United States in Madras, Ore., at 1:20 p.m. Eastern time and will continue to the east coast, leaving America’s viewers at 2:43 p.m. in Charleston, South Carolina.
“We source all the materials here, so everything is done in the U.S. There are only a few things we can’t get from the U.S., like resistors and a few other do-dads, but we do our absolute best to source everything from the U.S.” Pat Steele-Gaishin, Thousand Oaks Optical
Steele-Gaishin wants everyone to have an opportunity to witness this rare event.
Thousand Oaks Optical has been in business for more than 35 years. Steele-Gaishin started the company because astronomy was his passion as a teenager growing up in Gross Ile, Michigan.
“I started Thousand Oaks in 1979,” said Steele-Gaishin. “Astronomy was a hobby when I was young. I built my own telescope and ground a big lens myself and I had an interest so I figured I would do something I enjoy. We started in California (Thousand Oaks) and have been in Arizona for about 10 years.”
Thousand Oaks Optical has become the major supplier of its silver-black polymer sheets which are the lenses bonded between sheets of heavy paper. He cut manufacturing production of glasses and 3 x 5 viewer cards for this eclipse to concentrate on the polymer sheet sourcing and his production of camera and telescope lenses. At the age of 68, Steele-Gaishin did not want his company to get too big. He hired a small staff of 10 for the 2017 eclipse production.
“The filters are silver-black film that we make for other NASA recommended manufacturers,” he said. “There are a lot of steps in the process to make the film but we’ve been making it a long, long time. The film is, of course, the most important component.
“We have our own proprietary recipe. Years ago, a lot of places would use Mylar which is used in food packaging. So, there were issues with pinholes in the coating. Our film is impregnated with the blackening materials so there won’t be any kind of pinholes or scratches.”
Steele-Gaishin sources materials for his lenses from companies throughout America. While Thousand Oaks Optical is headquartered in Arizona, its manufactures its products in Georgia, Nevada and California.
“Everything is made here in the United States,” said Steele-Gaishin. “We source all the materials here, so everything is done in the U.S. There are only a few things we can’t get from the U.S., like resistors and a few other do-dads, but we do our absolute best to source everything from the U.S.”
Even though this solar eclipse is being called the “Great American Eclipse” because it is the first time in 99 years that Americans have had a coast-to-coast view of a total solar eclipse, there are other countries producing knock-offs of American products that may not be safe for viewing.
Amazon.com started a recall of glasses sold on its dominating shopping website 10 days before Monday’s event because these unsafe glasses had made their way into its supply chain. These producers, mostly based in Asia, have been able to exactly copy the American-made frames including false manufacture listings, certification numbers and NASA recommended symbols.
“Knock-off glasses are coming in from China and there is one place we know, coming from Hong Kong, that is a total knockoff of our viewer,” said Steele-Gaishin. “I think Amazon kind of freaked and didn’t handle this very well. They couldn’t control the sellers and ended up recalling listings from reputable, NASA recommended dealers.
“The most unfortunate thing is they’ve basically panicked the public. For the last few days all we do is answer phone calls and emails, people saying, ‘we got your viewers but how do we know they are safe, how do we know it is not counterfeit?’ The ISO number doesn’t mean anything if it is counterfeit. The ISO number relates to the safety of the eyewear. It’s a special specification that was written up in 1999.”
Another unfortunate result of the eclipse supply-and-demand madness is price gouging.
“We’re seeing our product, for example, a 4 x 4 inch of film, that should sell for $20 at most, being sold on E-Bay for $400,” said Steele-Gaishin. “I guess I shouldn’t be shocked, but it disgusts me that this is going on with our product. We’ve cut-off sellers like that but there is only so much that can be done.
“We were selling a pack of 25 viewers for $35. When I saw a $20 piece of our film being sold for as much as $400 on EBay, I knew these people were out to make a killing.”
If you are standing in a queue this weekend waiting for eclipse glasses to be distributed, or can’t acquire a viewing lens, you can take comfort in the fact that the next total solar eclipse will take place in America in 2024. You have seven years to find solar lenses.