Who Invented the Umbrella?

This summer, at least where I’m living, the heat is hard and the rain is harder. I don’t know why we can just have a nice soft rain, it feels like an act of personal revenge coming from the sky. So lately, when rain is announced, you better be ready if you have to go outside. Of course, it’s not something new. And thinking about that made me curious:

Who Created the Umbrella?

As I’m realizing while writing articles for this website, like a lot of objects we are using in our day-to-day life, the umbrella finds its origins in ancient civilizations. Back then though, they were primarly used as sun protection, known as parasols.

The term “parasol” originates from the Latin words “para,” meaning to shield, and “sol,” meaning sun. Parasols were primarily designed to shield individuals from the sun’s rays rather than provide protection from rain.

1924 India Umbrella Ad

On the other hand, the umbrella came into existence as a rain protection device. It clearly evolved from the parasol concept and originated in ancient Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China. These early umbrellas featured canopies made from materials such as palm leaves, feathers, or silk, supported by a framework composed of wood or metal.

As far as we know, the earliest known parasols in Ancient Egyptian appeared around the time of the Fifth Dynasty, around 2450 BC. It’s possible that the concept is even older.

Umbrellas Vs. Parasols

While umbrellas and parasols share a similar purpose of providing protection from the elements, they possess distinct characteristics and functionalities.

The Umbrellas are designed specifically for rain protection. They feature a waterproof canopy and a sturdy frame, which may be collapsible for easy portability. Umbrellas are typically made from materials such as nylon, polyester, or Pongee fabric. They are equipped with a handle and a shaft, allowing users to hold them above their heads to shield against raindrops.

As their name suggests, Parasolsare primarily intended for sun protection. They feature canopies made of light, breathable materials like silk or cotton. Parasols are designed to block the sun’s rays and provide shade, helping individuals avoid excessive heat and sunburn.

The Umbrellas’ Evolution

Historical records suggest that collapsible umbrellas were first introduced in China around the 11th century BC. These early umbrellas featured a folding mechanism, with frames made of bamboo and canopies made of flexible silk. The folding design enhanced portability and convenience, making umbrellas accessible to a broader range of individuals.

During the Middle Ages, umbrellas found their way into European societies and were apparently primarily associated with religious ceremonies. Umbrellas adorned with religious symbols were carried by clergymen during processions, symbolizing divine protection. However, it wasn’t until the 16th century that umbrellas gained prominence as practical rain shields.

In fact, it was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that the use of the umbrella in France and England became noticeable. That may be a strong word, as it really took years for the umbrella to be adopted by the leading European countries. The word “umbrella” was only added to the French dictionary (I mean, the word “parapluie,” of course) in 1718.

1920s France La Vie Parisienne Magazine Poster (source)

The Industrial Revolution was an important turning point in the evolution of umbrella production. Steel and waterproof textiles became more commonly available, which enabled the development of more resilient umbrellas. Allowing for simple opening and closing procedures, collapsible umbrellas with telescopic shafts were introduced.

In 1852, an English inventor named Samuel Fox patented the use of steel ribs and stretchers in umbrella construction. This breakthrough revolutionized umbrella durability and resistance to strong winds, ensuring their reliability even in adverse weather conditions.

Today, umbrellas are obviously crafted from a variety of modern materials, including fiberglass, carbon fiber, and high-density polyester, that offer enhanced durability, strength, and resistance to wind, making modern umbrellas more reliable than ever.

It’s summer anyway, so you may prefer to read about the invention of the ice cream or the soda.

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