History of Umbrellas

The word umbrella comes from the Latin word umbra, meaning shade or shadow (the Latin word. An umbrella or parasol (also called a brolly, rainshade, sunshade, gamp or bumbershoot) is a canopy designed to protect against rain or sunlight. Often the difference is the material; some parasols are not waterproof. Parasols are often meant to be fixed to one point and often used with patio tables or other outdoor furniture. Umbrellas are almost exclusively hand-held portable devices; however, parasols can also be hand-held. Umbrellas can be held as fashion accessories.

The First Umbrella

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 basic umbrella was invented over four thousand years ago. We have seen evidence of umbrellas in the ancient art and artifacts of Egypt, Assyria, Greece, and China. These ancient umbrellas or parasols were first designed to provide shade from the sun. The Chinese were the first to waterproof their umbrellas for use as rain protection. They waxed and lacquered their paper parasols in order to use them for rain. Starting in the 16th century the umbrella became popular to the western world, especially in the rainy weather of northern Europe. At first it was considered only an accessory suitable for women. Then the Persian traveler and writer, Jonas Hanway (1712-86), carried and used an umbrella publicly in England for thirty years, he popularized umbrella use among men. English gentleman often referred to their umbrellas as a “Hanway.”

James Smith and Sons – The first Umbrella shop

The first all umbrella shop was called “James Smith and Sons”. The shop opened in 1830, and is still located at New Oxford Street in London, England. The early European umbrellas were made of wood or whalebone and covered with alpaca or oiled canvas. The artisans made the curved handles for the umbrellas out of hard woods like ebony, and were well paid for their efforts.

Invention of the Umbrella design

In 1852, Samuel Fox invented the steel ribbed umbrella design. Fox also founded the “English Steels Company”, and claimed to have invented the steel ribbed umbrella as a way of using up stocks of farthingale stays, steel stays used in women’s corsets. After that, compact collapsible umbrellas were the next major technical innovation in umbrella manufacture, over a century later. In 1823, Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh patented a method for making waterproof garments by using rubber dissolved in coal-tar naphtha for cementing two pieces of cloth together. The now famous macintosh raincoat was named after Charles Macintosh. Macintosh raincoats were first made using the methods developed by Charles Macintosh. When vulcanized rubber was invented in 1839, Macintosh’s fabrics improved since the new rubber could withstand temperature changes.

Raw Materials

Materials used to manufacture umbrellas have, of course, improved through the years. One of the most important innovations came in the early 1850s, when Samuel Fox conceived the idea of using “U” shaped steel rods for the ribs and stretchers to make a lighter, stronger frame. Previously, English umbrellas had been made from either cane or whalebone; whalebone umbrellas especially were bulky and awkward. Rounded ribs and stretchers are frequently seen today only on parasols and patio umbrellas. Advancements in metal-producing technology have made rounded metal ribs and stretchers more feasible, however, and some manufacturers produce umbrellas with these components. Modern rain umbrellas are made with fabrics (nylon, most commonly) that can withstand a drenching rain, dry quickly, fold easily, and are available in a variety of colors and designs. Among the qualities one might look for in an umbrella is the comfort of the handle, the ease with which the umbrella is opened and closed, and the closeness with which the canopy segments are connected to the ribs.

The Manufacturing Process

Modern umbrellas are made by a hand-assembly process that, except for a few critical areas, can be done by semi-skilled workers. Choices of materials and quality control occur throughout the manufacturing process. Although a well-made umbrella need not be expensive, almost every purchasing decision impacts directly upon the quality of the final product. Collapsible rain umbrellas that telescope into a length of about a foot are the most recent innovations in umbrellas. Though mechanically more complicated than stick umbrellas, they share the same basic technology. Among the differences between a stick umbrella and a collapsible umbrella is that the collapsible uses a two piece shaft that telescopes into itself, and an extra set of runners along the top of the umbrella. This section will focus on the

Manufacturing of a stick umbrella:

The shaft: [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]The stick umbrella will usually begin its life as a shaft of either wood, steel, or aluminum, approximately 3/8 inch (.95 centimeter) thick.[/list]   Ribs and stretchers: [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]The ribs and stretchers are assembled first, usually from “U” shaped or channeled steel or other metal. Ribs run underneath the top or canopy of the umbrella; stretchers connect the ribs with the shaft of the umbrella. The ribs are attached to the shaft of the umbrella by fitting into a top notch—a thin, round nylon or plastic piece with teeth around the edges, and then held with thin wire. The stretchers are connected to the shaft of the umbrella with a plastic or metal runner, the piece that moves along the shaft of the umbrella when it is opened or closed.[/list] [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]Next, the ribs and stretchers are connected to each other with a joiner, which is usually a small jointed metal hinge; as the umbrella is opened or closed, the joiner opens or closes through an angle of more than 90 degrees.[/list] [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”] There are two catch springs in the shaft of each umbrella; these are small pieces of metal that need to be pressed when the umbrella is slid up the shaft to open, and again when the umbrella is slid down the shaft for closing. Metal shafts are usually hollow, and the catch spring can be inserted, while a wood shaft requires that a space for the catch spring be hollowed out. A pin or other blocking device is usually placed into the shaft a few inches above the upper catch spring to prevent the canopy from sliding past the top of umbrella, when the runner goes beyond the upper catch spring.[/list]   Canopy: [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]The cover or canopy of the umbrella is hand sewn in individual panels to the ribs. Because each panel has to be shaped to the curve of the canopy, the cover cannot be cut in one piece. Panels are sewn at the outer edges of the ribs, and there are also connections between the ribs and the panels about one-third of the way down from the outer edge of the canopy. Each panel is cut separately from piles of materials called gores; machine cutting of several layers at once is possible, although hand-cutting is more typical. The typical rain umbrella has eight panels, although some umbrellas with six panels (children’s umbrellas and parasols usually have six panels) and as many as twelve can occasionally be found. At one point, the number of panels in an umbrella may have been an indication of quality (or at least of the amount of attention the umbrella maker paid to his product). Today, because of the quality of the material available to the umbrella maker, the number of panels is usually a matter of style and taste rather than quality.[/list] [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]The fabric used in a good-quality umbrella canopy is usually a nylon taffeta rated at 190T (190 threads per inch), with an acrylic coating on the underside and a scotch-guard type finish on the top. The coating and finish are usually applied by the fabric supplier. Fabric patterns and designs can be chosen by the manufacturer, or the manufacturer might add his own patterns and designs using a rotary or silk screening process, especially for a special order of a limited number of umbrellas. Similarly, other fabrics besides nylon might be used according to need or taste; a patio umbrella attached to an outdoor table does not have to be lightweight and waterproof as much as a customer might want it to be large, durable, and attractive.[/list] [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]The tip of the umbrella that passes through the canopy can be covered with metal (a ferrule) that has been forced over and perhaps glued to the tip, or left bare, depending on the desire of the manufacturer. The handle is connected to the shaft at the end of the process, and can be wood, plastic, metal, or any combination of desired ingredients. Though handles can be screwed on, better-quality umbrellas use glue to secure the handle more tightly.[/list] [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]The end tips of the umbrella, where the ribs reach past the canopy, can be left bare or covered with small plastic or wood end caps that are either pushed or screwed on, or glued, and then sewn to the ends of the ribs through small holes in the end caps.[/list] [list icon=”chevron-sign-right”]Finally, the umbrella is packaged accordingly and sent to customers.[/list]



1709 – Artisans often fashioned elaborate curved handles out of hardwoods like ebony. 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. The folding umbrella was invented in 1709, during the reign of the Sun King. At the time they were very expensive status symbols. Recorded in History on May 4, 1715 in Paris, the French manufacturer debuts 1st folding umbrella. (U.S. patent#323,397) William C. CarterIn 1852, Samuel Fox invented the steel ribbed umbrella design. African-American, inventor, William C. Carter patented an umbrella stand (U.S. patent#323,397 – see image left) on August the 8th, 1885. After that, compact collapsible umbrellas were the next major technical innovation in umbrella manufacture, over a century later.


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