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What is the History of Umbrellas?

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 rainboots – it’s time to splash through the fascinating history of the umbrella!

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

Hour Glass

History of Umbrellas Timeline

Umbrellas have been popular accessories for thousands of years. Over time, they’ve had a place in ruling dynasties, gender equality, and delicious cocktails.

  • 1000 BC

    1000 BC https://www.topsimages.com/images/egyptian-fan-art-49.html

    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.

  • 206 BC

    206 BC http://en.kunming.cn/index/content/2015-04/14/content_3882026.htm

    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.

  • 1750s

    1750s https://www.european-umbrellas.com/umbrella-history.html

    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.

  • 1830

    1830 https://www.james-smith.co.uk/history/

    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.

  • 1852

    1852 https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Samuel_Fox_and_Co

    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.

  • 1880

    1880 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umbrella_hat

    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.

  • 1885

    1885 https://teesthatteach.com/today-in-black-historypatented-an-umbrella-stand/

    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.

  • 1940s

    1940s https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbes-finds/2018/06/28/the-best-beach-umbrella-is-a-world-war-ii-era-beach-umbrella/#26b1502c3418

    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.

  • 1959

    1959 http://imbibemagazine.com/cocktail-umbrellas/

    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.

  • 1965

    1965 https://patents.google.com/patent/US3286962A/en

    “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.

  • 1969

    1969 https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/photos/the-humble-umbrella-history-in-pics/ss-AAbtDTP#image=11

    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.

  • 2011

    2011 https://inhabitat.com/wayne-hemingway-unveils-umbrella-made-from-recycled-plant-based-plastic-bottles/?variation=c

    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.

  • 2013

    2013 https://www.core77.com/posts/25265/Who-Invented-the-Umbrella-The-Romans-the-Chinese-or-Frogs

    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.

  • 2014

    2014 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/29/umbrella-symbol-hong-kong-democracy-protests

    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.

  • 2016

    2016 https://www.businessinsider.com/wezzoos-smart-umbrella-will-text-when-it-will-rain-2016-3

    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.

  • 2018

    2018 https://dronebelow.com/2018/06/04/finally-japan-makes-handsfree-drone-umbrella-reality/

    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.


Where Does the Word “Umbrella” Come From?

Umbrella

The word “umbrella” comes from the Latin word “umbra,” meaning shadow. The umbrella was originally designed as a shield from the sun, but over time it evolved to be used during rainy weather.

Interestingly enough, the word “parasol” has a similar meaning. It comes from the Italian parasole, which means “protection from the sun.” There’s no clear reason why the name changed from parasol to umbrella, other than the natural evolution when a product starts in one place, but then moves to another.

Umbrella
Did you know?

It’s tradition in New Orleans to carry umbrellas during weddings.

What Year Was the First Umbrella Invented?

What Year Was the First Umbrella Invented? https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/umbrella–2

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 instead 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!

What Year Was the First Umbrella Invented? https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/umbrella–2

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?

What Are Oil-Paper Umbrellas? http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1060250.shtml

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.

What Are Oil-Paper Umbrellas? http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1060250.shtml

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?

Did They Have Umbrellas in the 1800s? James Smith & Sons Twitter Page

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.

Did They Have Umbrellas in the 1800s? James Smith & Sons Twitter Page

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.

Did you know?

The superstition about opening umbrellas indoors stems from the 18th century. Early designs often required force to function, which made opening them indoors extremely dangerous.

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!

Who Invented the Steel Ribbed Umbrella? https://www.thestar.co.uk/business/photos-175-years-of-steelworks-in-stocksbridge-1-8833405

Just like that, the umbrella renaissance had begun! Everybody, from men to women and children, even the Pope, could be seen carrying one around Europe. Shops like Hoyland’s Better Umbrellas started coming up with creative, fashionable designs and fun extras like the umbrella hat and stand were developed at this time. Overall, the umbrella was an accessory with a lot of staying power!

Today, the umbrella trend is still going strong. You’ll see high-end options from famous designers like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Prada. Meanwhile, technology is allowing for more complex designs like smart umbrellas and flying umbrella drones. Time will only tell what will come next!

Who Invented the Steel Ribbed Umbrella? https://www.thestar.co.uk/business/photos-175-years-of-steelworks-in-stocksbridge-1-8833405
Did you know?

Queen Victoria was rumored to have offered an umbrella worth $15,000 to a sultan as a gift!

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!

Why Are Umbrellas Popular?

Stats for Success

There are over 120,000 patents for various umbrellas in the United States.

45% of people in the United States own a custom umbrella.

About 33 million umbrellas are sold in the United States every year.

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!

References

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Basu, T. (2016, February 10). 8 Mind-Expanding Facts About Umbrellas. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from http://mentalfloss.com/article/75124/8-mind-expanding-facts-about-umbrellas

Encyclopedia.com. (2019). Umbrellas and Parasols. Retrieved March 7, 2019, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/fashion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/umbrellas-and-parasols

Discover Britain Magazine. (2019). The Rise of Umbrellas. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://www.discoverbritainmag.com/weather-the-weather-british-umbrellas/

Walton, G. (2014, February 21). Umbrellas and Their History in the United Kingdom. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from https://www.geriwalton.com/umbrellas-and-their-history-in-united/

Jyoti Umbrellas. (2019). History of Umbrellas. Retrieved March 8, 2019, from http://www.jyotiumbrellas.com/history-of-umbrellas/

Online Etymology Dictionary. (2019). Parasol. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.etymonline.com/

My Wedding in New Orleans. New Orleans Wedding Traditions. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.neworleans.com/weddings/planning-tools/wedding-umbrellas-and-handkerchiefs/

Global Times. (2017, August 8). The Origins and Traditions of Chinese Oil-Paper Umbrellas. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from http://www.globaltimes.cn/content/1060250.shtml

Advertising Specialty Institute. (2019). Global Ad Impressions Study 2019 Edition. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://media.asicentral.com/resources/Global-Ad-Impressions-Study.pdf

Greatest Stores. (2013, August 20). The Evolution of the Umbrella. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from http://greateststores.com/greatblog/the-evolution-of-the-umbrella/

Poplar Forest. (2019). Of Parasols and Umbrellas. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.poplarforest.org/442-2/

Curtis, W. (2016, August 7). History Lesson: Cocktail Umbrellas. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from http://imbibemagazine.com/cocktail-umbrellas/

Bilow, R. (2014, March 21). The Exciting History and Origin of the Cocktail Umbrella. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.bonappetit.com/drinks/cocktails/article/cocktail-umbrella-history

Dove, L. (2019). Why Are People Afraid to Open an Umbrella Indoors. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://people.howstuffworks.com/open-umbrella-indoors.htm

Eve. (2014, February 10). The History of the Umbrella. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.eve.com.mt/2014/02/10/the-history-of-the-umbrella/

Bellis, M. (2018, June 13). Who Invented the Umbrella? Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.thoughtco.com/who-invented-the-umbrella-1992592

Silver, C. (1981, May 6). Umbrellas: Drenched in History. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/06/garden/umbrellas-drenched-in-history.html

Forbes. (2018, June 28). The Best Beach Umbrella is a World War II Era Beach Umbrella. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbes-finds/2018/06/28/the-best-beach-umbrella-is-a-world-war-ii-era-beach-umbrella/#3aa5195c3418

Genius Stuff. (2019). Stuff of Genius: Better, Faster, Stronger… Meet the Modern Umbrella. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.geniusstuff.com/videos/umbrella-video.htm

History. (2019). Silk Road. Retrieved March 11, 2019, from https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-middle-east/silk-road