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The History of Umbrellas

Time: 2016-03-18

Derived from the Latin word Umbra, which means shade. The first umbrellas were for protection from the sun and were possibly inspired from the canopy of a tree, which would offer a cool shade from the heat of the day. The origins of the umbrella are most probably China in 11th century B.C. although ancient sculptures have been found in Nineveh, Persepolis and Thebes (Egypt) depicting the use of umbrellas. There is also evidence of Umbrellas or Parasols being used at the same period in India. The first umbrellas were most probably a converted branch of a tree (for example giant Banana Leaves) or a hat on a stick, which gave rise to the umbrella, as we know it today. The word Parasol was derived from the Latin words papare, which means to prepare, and sol, which means sun. Generally a parasol is now regarded as a sunshade and umbrella as a rain protector, but this distinction only evolved during the late 18th century. Before then umbrellas and parasols both offered protection against the sun, but that parasols were carried over the person it shaded rather than an umbrella, which was carried by the person it shaded. However, there is some evidence of Romans using umbrellas to protect a person from the rain, but the idea never caught on, as it was the Greeks who popularised the idea of umbrellas being used as a sunshade. The first umbrellas (or more correctly parasols) were associated with rank and there is early evidence of this is Egypt around 1200 B.C. It was a sign of nobility for a person to have fair skin and the parasol's protection against the sun was widely chosen by royalty to ensure the skin would not tan. In Assyria it was the King's privilege and no one but he could carry an umbrella. The status symbol of an umbrella was certainly evident in other parts of the world at this time, not so much for their size, but for the number of tiers as this implied both wealth and power. Records show that the Emperor of China's parasol had four tiers and the King of Siam's seven or nine, each having an elaborate fringe and tassels. Ancient writings found in Ava in Burma, described the ruler as "King of the White Elephants" and " Lord of the twenty-Four Parasols". In African, the umbrella is still regarded as emblem of rank. The umbrella was also considered a symbol in early religious beliefs to be connected with the Gods of fertility and harvest, death and rebirth. Nut, the mother goddess of ancient Egypt was sometimes compared to an umbrella, with her body arching over the whole of Earth. Nut's son Osiris and God of the Lower World was also associated with the umbrella and bringer of rain. Similarities of this legend can be found with the Hindu God Vishnu, who in his fifth incarnation brought back the rain-giving umbrella of Varuna from Hell. The Greeks and Romans incorporated such stories with their respective Gods Dionysius and Bacchus, both of whom gave rain. But it was the Greeks who developed the umbrella's widespread use by women, which originated from the worship of Dionysius where a parasol was carried over the statue of the God at Festivals. Very soon this trait was used for other Gods and Goddesses, including Pallas Athena and Athenian women had parasols held over them at feasts in her honour. This led to the parasol being associated as an accessory for women. During the middle ages the umbrellas popularity declined from use, although it was still used in ceremonial regalia for the Pope, which some say originated from the brown and white parasol given to Pope Sylvester I by Emperor, Constantine the Great. The striped canopy of an umbrella depicted in the papal colours of Red and Gold above the cross keys of St Peter was used on a papal badge. Known as an ombrellino, it is still worn by the Cardinal Camerlengo as acting head of the Catholic Church during an interregnum in the papacy. By the 15th Century, as the power of the church weakened, high-ranking nobility and church dignitaries used different coloured ombrellinos and this most likely gave rise to the use of an umbrella as a fashion accessory. It was the influence of the Church that resulted the spread of Umbrellas across Europe. The trend started in Italy and can be traced back to the 12th Century when Pope Alexander III granted the Doge of Venice the right to have a parasol carried over him. This continued until 1797 when Napoleon Bonaparte abolished the Venetian Republic. But it was the French Women who popularised the use of an umbrella during 17th Century and by 18th Century; the use of an Umbrella had spread across the whole of Europe. Umbrellas were by now commonplace and many intricate fashion designs began to appear, but the use of the umbrella was still as a sunshade. Umbrellas did not appear in England until the Restoration Period. This was most probably because the Puritan regime saw umbrellas as a frivolous object, which prevented the heaven-sent rain from wetting a person. Catherine of Braganza was said to have introduced umbrellas to England when she married Charles II. She brought with her a parasol of Portuguese design and although there is no evidence to suggest umbrellas where used by other lady courtiers due to the King's disapproval of Portuguese fashion, ladies were beginning to be seen in London after 1676 with dainty parasols to shade them from the sun. In 1682, the ambassador from the King of Batam presented Prince Rupert with Two Great Umbrellas, and although most probably a coincidence, within a few months Prince Rupert was Dead and the Kingdom of Batam was in decline. For a long time after, the King of Batam's Umbrellas became a byword in England and this incident may have given rise to the superstition that it was unlucky to open an umbrella indoors. It was time during the period 1685 - 1705 that the idea of a waterproof umbrella was established. Known at first as an umbrellow, from the French word ombrelle, which in itself was derived from ombrellino, the inclemency of the English weather ensured the umbrella's success. This new use was popularised by the coffee houses where umbrellas were kept to shelter customers from the rain when walking to their carriages. However, despite their cumbersome design, umbrellas were still used by women as men were ridiculed if they borrowed one. During the mid 18th Century, it was the philanthropist Jonas Hanway who pioneered the use of an umbrella in Britain and the first man to commonly use an umbrella. He is often mistakenly recognised for its invention and introduction to London. However, Hanway's umbrella was most like French and he was very rarely seen without it, claiming the umbrella was to protect his cloths from the sun and the rain. Hanway created a sensation at the time and was often fair game to rogues who were egged on by coachmen seeing their living at risk from his umbrella. However, the idea soon caught on and umbrellas were known for sometime as Hanways. It was during this period that the distinction between a parasol that gave protection from the sun and an umbrella from the rain came into being. John Beale registered the first a patent in 1786 with the idea of a circular coned canopy supported by ribs attached to a central shaft. With the popularisation of umbrellas in the 19th Century, inventions and patents on umbrellas started to increase in number to over 40 per year from 1860 to the turn of the century. The global market for umbrellas was spurred on by the industrial revolution; with Great Britain leading the way in an export drive to her new colonies around the world including America. The idea of a parasol being an accessory of costume of the 17th and 18th Century with intricate lace or brocade designs, ebony or bone shafts and handles made of precious metals with jewels, became a fashion item of the 19th Century. In 1843 Henry Holland, introduced steel ribs partly due to the increase in the cost of whalebone, but it was the invention by Samuel Fox in 1852 of the "U" shaped Paragon steel rib, which is still used today, that revolutionised the umbrella. In the 20th Century, the umbrella became a functional item with the sole purpose of offering shelter from the rain, and in the 1930's the lady's parasol fell from fashion, as the tanned skin became vogue. Between the World Wars, it became very fashionable for Gentlemen to have a black umbrella with a silk and/or cotton canopy and crook handle and the stereotype of the City Gent lived on after World War II. Post war lives were transformed by the onslaught of technology. The need for more practical umbrellas became greater and by the 1950's the telescopic folding umbrella heralded the way. Although Marius, a Parisian trader, invented the first folding umbrellas in 1709, his inventions never caught on because of their clumsy design and it was the launch in USA in the 1930's of the "Growy Umbrella" with the idea of folding ribs that ensured the success of the telescopic folding umbrella. In the 1947 the PVC transparent umbrella was invented, but it was not until 1960's that it became fashionable. There has been a recent interest in PVC umbrellas, but environmental concerns on the use of PVC has dampened the appeal that the umbrella had during the Swinging Sixties. 1n the 1950's Nylon canopies started to replace oiled cotton canvas and the new stronger material was an immediate success. Nylon canopies do not rot or cause mildew and since the man-made fibres were easier to print on, by the late 1970's it paved the way for the Golf umbrella, developed from the Gig umbrella, as the ideal promotional product for companies to advertise on.