Corinne S Kennedy Memphis Commercial Appeal May 19th, 2023

Next year, North America will see one of the largest and most impressive solar eclipses in living memory. And many people will be viewing that celestial phenomenon through specially designed glasses made in the Mid-South.

Bartlett-based American Paper Optics is the world’s largest 3D optics company as well as the largest supplier of safe solar eclipse glasses. The company makes all its products in the Memphis area, chief marketing officer Jason Lewin said.

The company, founded in 1990, sold 45 million pairs of eclipse glasses before the 2017 solar eclipse and in the run-up to next year’s ― and an annular eclipse, sometimes known as a “ring of fire” eclipse, in the western United States this fall ― the company hopes to sell upward of 75 million pairs. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, entirely blocking the face of the sun.

A look inside American Paper Optics in Bartlett on May 4, 2023. The company is making millions of pairs of solar eclipse glasses.

American Paper Optics already has gotten more than 30 million orders and is selling all over the U.S., Mexico and Canada. Totality for the annular eclipse on Oct. 14 will cut its way southeast from Oregon to Texas, with lesser levels of visibility spreading out in each direction.

For the total solar eclipse on April 8, the path of totality will start on the west coast of Mexico, traveling northeast through the Midwest and up to the east coast of Canada. The Memphis area will have about 95% totality.

But a relatively short drive away, spots in Arkansas ― including Little Rock and Hot Springs ― and Southern Missouri are in the path of totality for upward of 4 minutes. That will provide optimal viewing of what website Great American Eclipse calls “nature’s greatest sight.” Jerit also encouraged people from the Mid-South to make their way into the path of totality that Monday.

“(It’s) like kissing your sister versus being with the celebrity of your dreams,” he said, comparing what will be seen in Memphis to the path of totality.

A machine prints the outline of the solar eclipse glasses at American Paper Optics in Bartlett on May 4, 2023. The company is making millions of pairs of solar eclipse glasses.

Orders pouring in

American Paper Optics, with 44 employees, has been preparing for the eclipses in October and April since the 2017 eclipse.

Towns in that path are already ramping up for eclipse tourism, and many are already experiencing hotel booking bumps. Earlier this month, Jerit said the company was working on an order of 30,000 glasses made by the town of Hot Springs for residents and visitors. The company has also produced 2.2 million glasses for NASA, he added.

Orders are coming from municipalities, convention and visitors bureaus, and other sources. American Paper Optics also sells on its own website, on Amazon and to third parties that also sell on Amazon or other websites.

This pair of solar eclipse glasses is prepared to be shipped out to NASA at American Paper Optics in Bartlett on May 4, 2023. The company is making millions of pairs of solar eclipse glasses

The eclipse glasses can be reused, Jerit said, if someone is planning to view both the October and April events. According to NASA, it’s never safe to look directly into the sun, even when partly obscured during an eclipse, which could cause permanent eye damage. Only during totality is it safe to look at the star without the eyewear or another safe-viewing method.

Jerit and Lewin said they also wanted to raise awareness about both upcoming eclipses. While eclipses of varying magnitudes happen with some regularity, many are over the open ocean. Significant eclipses over populated areas are much more rare.

NASA said this is the last total eclipse that will be viewable from the contiguous United States until Aug. 23, 2044.

American Paper Optics and NASA have detailed information on their websites about what to expect, where the best viewing spots will be, where to purchase eclipse glasses and other information for those looking to view this year’s annual eclipse and next year’s total eclipse.

Corinne S Kennedy covers economic development, healthcare, real estate and general business for The Commercial Appeal. 

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