If you’ve ever been caught singing in the rain, you know the value of a good umbrella! This handy item has been keeping our heads nice and dry since it made its debut thousands of years ago.
Who invented the umbrella? Why? Put on your rain boots – it’s time to splash through the fascinating history of umbrellas!
Plenty of people buy the first umbrella they see because it’s pouring, but everyone who buys one expects the thing to work.Consumer Reports, 1991
Egyptians would use feathers or lotus leaves as a way to both create shade for nobility and honor their gods and goddesses. These served as early versions of parasols.
Rulers in ancient China had servants protect them from the sun with silk parasols. It eventually became practice to customize these early umbrellas with flowers, birds, or intricate landscapes.
Jonas Hanway, a philanthropist in Europe, carried what would eventually become the modern version of the umbrella. This trendsetter made it socially acceptable for men to carry umbrellas in public.
Entrepreneur James Smith founded an umbrella shop called James Smith & Sons. The store is still in business today, offering handcrafted umbrellas to the people of London.
Samuel Fox of the English Steels Company changed the umbrella’s design by adding the same steel ribbed frame used in women’s corsets. This is the style of umbrella we still use to this day.
The novelty umbrella hat is rumored to have made its debut at this time. Robert W. Patten claimed to have invented the hat while he was looking for fossils and precious metals in Mexico.
William C. Carter of Cincinnati patented the very first umbrella stand. This device accommodated more than one umbrella and was a good piece of home décor.
The Frankford was considered the best umbrella for the beach since it had a sturdy design and wouldn’t blow away easily. Today, it’s the official umbrella for beaches in South Carolina, Virginia, and Chicago.
Umbrellas found their way into our drinks! Harry Yee, the head bartender at a hotel in Hawaii, was the first to use little foldable umbrellas in his specialty mixed drinks as easy toothpicks for his guests.
“It’s raining cats and dogs” took on a whole new meaning! The Dog Umbrella, invented by Kenneth Warth, secured to the leash and served as protection for furry friends.
Bradford E. Phillips changed the game with a foldable umbrella. People were now able to easily store their umbrellas and take them on the go.
Going green became more important than ever before, leading to an eco-friendly umbrella from Wayne Hemingway. This stylish model is made from 22.5% plant material as well as recycled Coca-Cola bottles.
A photographer for National Geographic captured pictures of a frog using a leaf as an umbrella. This sparked debate on whether or not umbrellas were created to meet an evolutionary need.
The umbrella was used as a political statement in Hong Kong. Protesters used theirs as a shield from pepper spray as they demanded a more democratic nation.
The Wezzoo is a smart umbrella that texts you when it’s going to rain. The invention, which got its start on Kickstarter, connects to your phone via Bluetooth.
Technology is always evolving, as evidenced by Japan’s drone umbrella. This high-flying gadget positions itself to fly above a user’s head to keep them safe from showers.
When Was the Umbrella Invented?
Early umbrellas, or as they were known parasols, were designed by the Egyptians around 1000 B.C. The first models were made from feathers or lotus leaves, attached to a stick, and were used to offer shade to the nobility.
As they made their way overseas, umbrellas were regarded as status symbols, especially in China. Servants would hold theirs during carriage rides to protect members of the royal family from inclement weather. These umbrellas weren’t made from leaves and feathers as they were in Egypt. The frame was constructed from cane or sandalwood, while the covers consisted of leather, cloth, or silk.
If you weren’t Chinese royalty, you couldn’t use these fine materials. You were made to use flimsy models constructed from stout paper instead.
Thanks to the Silk Road, which was a network of trade routes in China, umbrellas eventually made their way to Japan, Korea, Greece, India, Rome, and North America. Now they’re part of many cultures around the world!
Listen to the umbrella. Look at its color and the way the light touches it. Know the story it wants you to tell before you begin.Carolyn Marsden, author of Silk Umbrellas
What Are Oil-Paper Umbrellas?
Oil-paper umbrellas have a remarkable history in ancient China. During the Han Dynasty, these umbrellas were painted with visually appealing motifs or positive messages. Each one was unique and showcased the fine craftsmanship of the Chinese people.
These handmade parasols were constructed with a bamboo frame and thin, durable paper made from tree bark. The decorative patterns typically consisted of elements found in nature, such as birds, flowers, and landscapes. Really talented artists were able to depict full storylines.
Nowadays, oil-paper umbrellas are still found in Asian plays, movies, dances, and weddings. You also see them in souvenir shops around the world. It just goes to show customized umbrellas never really go out of style!
Did They Have Umbrellas in the 1800s?
The umbrella was a popular accessory throughout the 1800s, and much credit for that goes to Jonas Hanway. The philanthropist was well-known in his community and made umbrellas popular by walking the London streets carrying one.
Before then, the umbrella was seen as a feminine accessory. Hanway paved the way and showed that, regardless of gender, everybody could benefit from not getting drenched by rainfall. The model he carried was coated with a lacquer to make it more water-resistant. It was also made from wooden rods, whalebone, and oiled silk, weighing in at about 10 pounds. Needless to say, it was cumbersome and extremely difficult to carry.
Still, that didn’t stop the people in London from loving umbrellas. In fact, a shop called James Smith & Sons opened on the West End by 1830. Today, the shop is still going strong, offering unique handcrafted models made from ebony and whalebone.
Who Invented the Steel Ribbed Umbrella?
The steel ribbed umbrella, or the one we use today, was invented by Samuel Fox in the 19th century. The innovative thinker worked for the English Steels Company and used the same steel frame as the ones in women’s corsets to add stability, flexibility, and less weight to the umbrella!
Everybody could be seen carrying an umbrella around Europe. Shops like Hoyland’s Better Umbrellas sold fashionable designs. Meanwhile, other types of umbrellas and accessories like the umbrella hat and stand were created at this time.
Custom Umbrellas: A Brief History
When plastisol ink was invented in 1959, it became possible to print a logo or design on a ton of everyday objects – shirts, drink glasses, bags, pens, and even umbrellas!
While it’s definitely possible to print your logo on promotional umbrellas that you carry around on a rainy day, there are also stationary options you can try as well. Restaurants like Tap House Grill in Oswego, IL cross promote certain food or liquor brands by advertising them on their patio umbrellas. Samuel Adams gets a big boost every time their name is seen on a sunny day!
Why Are Umbrellas Popular?
An umbrella can be used rain or shine. It’s one of those items you don’t think about needing, but couldn’t live without. With a rainbow of color and style options, and even some that are customizable, there’s a touch of whimsy and sophistication associated with a good one!
The Bottom Line
The umbrella was originally designed to offer shade to the nobility. Over time, though, it became a stylish essential for everything from spring showers to your favorite cocktail. Save yours for a rainy day!
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