The history of the umbrella

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We mention the term ‘umbrella’ quite often, however when we do, we’re not referring to the umbrella that protects you from the rain, we’re referring to an umbrella company such as ourselves.

Parasol was created in 2000 with the aim of helping contractors make the most of their income, whilst minimising the hassle involved with self-employment. As our twentieth birthday is approaching next year, we wanted to take a look at the history of the umbrella.

We’ve travelled back through time to explore the history of the umbrella, and its journey from ancient lands to the modern world.

Origins of the term ‘umbrella’

The word ‘umbrella’ originates from the Latin term ‘umbra’, later followed by the Italian term ‘ombra’, which translates to today’s shade or shadow. This provides a strong link back to the early use of the parasol, providing a shadow against the sun’s powerful rays.

So, where did the umbrella come from?

The basic umbrella was invented over 4,000 years ago, its early use has links back to Egypt, Greece and China. If we think of an umbrella, the first thing that would come to mind is rain; however, if we look at their use through time, they weren’t always used in these conditions. The ancient form of the umbrella was traditionally used for protection from the sun, today referred to as a parasol.

Ancient Egypt

In ancient Egypt, the first parasols appeared over 4,000 years ago, and were created to protect royalty and nobility from the sun’s harsh rays. They were originally made from materials such as tree leaves and palm branches, evolving to be made from animal skins and cloth as time went on. These materials were extremely expensive and difficult to source. As a result, they were almost exclusively used by royalty and nobility as a symbol of wealth.

In the desert-like climate, there was little need to create an umbrella through the waterproofing process.

China

In the 11th century BC, the early form of the umbrella was used by those who could afford such a luxurious item. The first waterproof parasols, or umbrellas from then onwards, failed to reach Europe due to limited international trade routes.

A long journey to Europe

After trade routes became more established, the Egyptian non-waterproofed parasol made its way to Greece and Italy, however they were used almost exclusively by females as males viewed them as ‘feminine’. Although the parasol had made its European debut, the fall of the Roman Empire led to its sudden departure from public use.

The poor conditions and lack of technological advancement following this meant that there was an almost-1000 year absence of the umbrella in Europe.

Closer to home

The umbrella emerged again in the 16th century, gaining popularity in the rainy climates of northern Europe.

In the 1790s, the tradition of female use continued to strengthen. This changed when Persian traveller and writer Jonas Hanway used an umbrella in public for a number of decades, popularising its use amongst men. The male population disapproved of this at first, but soon accepted the umbrella into their routine after stronger and heavier umbrellas were put into production.

The first shop that exclusively sold umbrellas was called James Smith and Sons. The shop opened in London in 1830, and still exists to this day.

Early European umbrellas were crafted together from wood and a form of oiled canvas, until the mid 1850s when the steel ribbed umbrella design was created by Samuel Fox. This was followed by the compact collapsible umbrella, available over a century later.

If we look back to the early 20th century, waterproofed umbrellas gained popularity whilst high value parasols lost traction. In 1928, Hans Haupt invented the pocket umbrella and received a patent for this one year later. The pocket umbrella, known as a “Knirps”, revolutionised the world of umbrellas and enjoyed decades of popularity.

Back to present day

The umbrella is now a staple in many of our lives, especially in the UK, new materials and technologies are changing the market. Which technologies have you noticed over the past few years? What do you think will happen in the future?

Here to help, rain or shine

Now that you’ve taken a step through time to discover the history of the umbrella and its useful role in our everyday lives, why not take a look at how our umbrella solution could help you? To find out more, simply contact us.