Monday, January 5, 2015


 We know that Umbrella is the most efficient means of protecting us from sun and rain. And there must be a story behind its invention. Let us see how it was invented and evolved.
There is desert like environment in northern Africa and Middle East. The first recorded use of sun protecting parasol found in Ancient Egypt, over 3500 years ago. Those parasols were simple configurations of palm leaves attached to a stick, Egyptian parasols became an object used by nobles, religious leaders and royalty.

Several hieroglyphic paintings found in ancient Egyptian ruins depicted the life of royalty and gods, which all had parasols over their heads. There was a tradition in neighboring kingdom of Assyria where only the kings had the right of protection under elaborate made parasols.

Due to the sunny weather over the entire year, Egyptian and Assyrians never developed waterproof parasols and create umbrellas. But Umbrellas were actually invented in China in 11th century BC, where first silk and waterproof umbrellas started being used by nobility and royalty. Multi-tiered umbrellas were used as a sign of power influence by Chinese Emperors. Similar tradition was being followed across the region, and rulers of Siam and Burma where parasols with eight to 24 layers were very popular.

The English word "umbrella" was derived from the Latin word "umbra", meaning shadow, with "umbrella" being a poetic word form meaning "little shadow". During 1st millennia BC, umbrellas came to Ancient Greece and Rome and become a luxurious female accessory regardless of whether its function was protection from the sun or rain,  . It was found that both Greek and Roman women had umbrellas often carried not by noble women but by slaves and servants, sometimes mounted on horses or carriages. Men, however, viewed umbrellas as female item only.

It was only with the arrival of Renaissance that umbrella regained its popularity, most commonly by the nobility and royalty in late 16th and 17th century in France, Italy and England. Umbrellas were generally made from silk and other expensive materials unable to provide long lasting protection from rain, but the design for opening and closing resembled those used by Roman and Greece women in 4th century BC. 

Around 1800, an umbrella whose frame consisted of wooden rods and whalebone weighed around 10 lbs. Even Wellington, the victor of Waterloo, owned an umbrella made of waxed canvas which included a rapier hidden in the handle.

As the centuries past, umbrellas slowly become popular across entire Europe but the tradition of its female use continued until mid-18th century. It was an Englishman - Jonas Hanway (1712-1786) - who made the umbrella popular among everyone. Hanway’s memorial plaque in Westminster Abbey honours his commitment to abandoned children and prostitutes, but does not mention his ground breaking service to the rain umbrella. 

He, the founder of English Magdalen Hospital, was the person who dared to appear in public carrying an umbrella in almost all occasions. Openly people made fun of him but finally male population of England accepted the use of umbrella by 1790s.

An Englishman, Samuel Fox from Sheffield, at the time of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, invented the steel frame of umbrella in 1852 which made it light weight. In 1852 John Gedge announced a self-opening rain umbrella from Paris. From then on the umbrella has hardly changed: black, slim, and precisely rolled it still today protects the gentleman in the City of London and the rest of the world.

Different varieties of frames whether gold-plated or in sterling silver, leather, horn, precious woods and cane, such as whangee and malacca, or with an integrated flashlight, pencil, watch, pill box, compass or drinking glass, almost all exist in the market.

In the 1920s, Hans Haupt in Berlin constructed the first telescoping pocket umbrella and with it founded the Knirps company in Berlin ("Knirps" is a German word with the meaning "little guy". The "Knirps" then began to revolutionise the world of umbrellas. In 1936 another innovation hit the market from Germany, the first automatic pocket umbrella with the name "Lord & Lady".

The small wonder umbrella "Knirps" experienced a real boom during this decade. During the 1960s with the introduction of nylon fabrics in manufacturing, umbrellas were manufactured in an unbelievable variety of colours and patterns. The rain umbrella became slimmer, lighter, flatter, and much more durable. The Knirps became the standard gift for birthdays, name days, Mother’s Day, Christmas, Easter, and other holidays. After then, due to the imports of cheap umbrellas from the Far East,  the umbrella lost its image as a status symbol.

It was only during the last years of the 20th Century that new experiments were done on umbrellas. This time the new materials and functions came from the Far East itself. Lightweight umbrellas made of aluminium and of fibreglass become popular. New frames with a double automatic mechanism for closing and opening, new fabrics, and new coatings (such as Teflon) in umbrellas were available in the market.

Advancements of umbrella technology and manufacture continue to be refined to this day, with many patents being submitted on every year (for example umbrella design that can withstand storm winds of up to 100km/h and can't be turned inside out). As of 2008, majority modern of umbrella production comes from several provinces of China which are home of thousands umbrella companies.


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