Recollections of AO

Clarifying when "AO Closed" in Southbridge

In the August 28th, 2008 Southbridge Evening News, there appeared a questionnaire about Southbridge and included in it was the following question: in what year did American Optical (AO) close”? The paper published the date 1984, which was in error.

While AO as we know it slowly phased out from its world headquarters and manufacturing in Southbridge, there is no one date that can define exactly when it closed, unless we are specific about the operation.

The actual date is hard to define and depends on what is meant by AO. If one concentrates on Southbridge closure dates, the milestones below give a flavor for what transpired. Judge for yourself on when you would consider “AO” to have closed in Southbridge:

    • AO Glass plant operation closed- 1979
    • AO Fiber optics sold - 1981 (it never closed and is now Schott Fiber Optics)
    • AO Soft contact lens operation sold and operations disbanded ~1985
    • AO Fused Glass Bifocal operation closes - 1985
    • AO casting / lens making operations complete move to Tijuana – 1992
    • AO Lens Company headquarters relocates from Southbridge to San Diego -1997
    • AO Warehouse closed -2001
    • AOTec sold in 2003 and closes 2004
    • AO Glass Executive Lens operation closed – 2005
    • AO Sunwear sold and moves to different Southbridge Location - 2006
    • AO Ophthalmic R&D Closed in Dec 2006- 3 “AO Lens Company” members remain employed in Southbridge
    • AO Safety (Aearo - 3M) announces closure of Manufacturing in June 2009, to be completed by early 2010.

What is misunderstood is that many believe that Southbridge/ AO Complex have no remaining AO related businesses. A number of important businesses evolved and while they no longer use the AO name, they provide significant employment and tax revenue today to the town of Southbridge.

 AO Safety is now Aearo (AO with Ear protection)- Southbridge Business  Center; Aearo was bought by 3M in 2007. In June of 2009, they announced an elimation of 200 jobs, a significant downsizing to be completed in 2010. There will remain a staff in building 70 as noted above.

 AO Fiber Optics is now Schott Fiber Optics)- Southbridge Business Center

 AO Sunwear now AO Eyewear- Route169 in Southbridge (near Dudley Line)

 AO Lens Company merged with SOLA and Zeiss (Now Carl Zeiss vision) which  is the  company I work for; in Dec 1996 my company dissolved R&D and 3 now  remain in  Southbridge. My office is 368 Main St.

In September 2009, QCC established its Southbridge Satelite office on the complex.  Read more about it (see item 4) of my top ten list on Southbridge.

Also in September 2009, Carl Storz announced plans to move its Charlton Warehouse facility to Building 35 on the complex (once the AO Warehouse)!

The influence of AO continues today for Southbridge, the community and the optical Industry worldwide.

- Dick Whitney


Return to AO Recollections Page

Return to AO History Main Page

Southbridge Recollections

Dick Whitney Recollections