History of the Umbrella

Most people are aware that London England is a rainy city, often beset by drizzle and showers. It should come as no surprise then that the umbrella had its origins in this very city, and that an Englishman named Jonas Hanway was the man who is chiefly responsible for making umbrellas popular. Hanway was something of a humanitarian, and is recognized in Westminster Abbey with a plaque that honors his service to abandoned children and prostitutes, although it fails to mention his role in popularizing the umbrella.

The ’portable roof’ as it was sometimes referred to, was known in various European locales, but was primarily used to keep the sun out. Even its name suggests this function, being derived from the Latin word ’umbra’, which means shadow, and the word umbrella constituting a poetic form of umbra which meant ’little shadow’. However, whether used as a shield against sun or against rain, umbrellas originally were considered to be purely feminine in nature, and were not carried by males.

Umbrellas Find Favor with Males

This was where Jonas Hanway made his big contribution in popularizing umbrella usage for males as well as females, making them an indispensable accessory for British gentlemen. By around 1800, the umbrella weighed something like 10 pounds, with a frame that consisted of whalebone and wooden rods. The winner of Waterloo, Wellington, was known to have owned an umbrella which carried a concealed rapier in its handle.

By the time 1852 rolled around, the weight of the umbrella had been reduced, with another Englishman named Samuel Fax inventing the steel frame. Because of raw materials that it could import from colonies at the time, England was able to produce umbrellas at an extraordinary cost of below one cent. From that time onward, the umbrella has changed very little - primarily black in color, slim in aspect, and rolled precisely, it still protects London gentlemen and ladies, as well as people throughout the world.

Umbrella Handles

Umbrella handles have enjoyed a much more diverse fate than the umbrella itself, and umbrella handles of today have developed into something like an art form, which is of great interest to a number of people. Umbrella handles today can be made of tremendously diverse number of materials such as precious woods, gold-plating, leather, horn, sterling silver, and even more. In addition, they are often integrated with pillboxes, compasses, pencils, watches, flashlights, and drinking glasses, to make them doubly functional.

Umbrella Variations

By 1715, a Parisian manufacturer by the name of Marius was able to announce his production of a pocket umbrella, although the idea never really captured the public imagination at the time. In the 19th century there were also several attempts to make it easier to transport one’s umbrella, and by 1852 a man named John Gedge was able to proclaim a self-opening umbrella from his Paris establishment.

However, the greatest breakthrough occurred in the 1920’s when a gentleman from Berlin named Hans Haupt constructed the very first telescoping pocket umbrella to compete with all the folding models which were then dominating the market. He founded the Knirps company in Berlin, and this company then went on to completely revolutionize the production of umbrellas. By 1936, the first automatic Knrips pocket umbrella was introduced to the world under the title of ’Lord & Lady’.

Rise of the Pocket Umbrella

During the 1950’s, the pocket umbrella soared into popularity, while the designer umbrella fell out of favor because of the needs of socialites engaged in automobile traveling. The Knirps umbrella underwent a major boom during the decade of the 50’s, and the trend was reinforced in the next decade, with the introduction of fabrics comprised of nylon. Since these could be used in an endless variety of patterns and colors, the rain umbrella became much more durable, much lighter, and much slimmer.

The popularity of the Knirps umbrella was behind only a watch and jewelry as a standard gift for practically every occasion, like birthdays, Christmas, Easter, and even for communion and confirmation presents. However, with the advent of the rock ’n roll generation, the umbrella lost much of its status, especially since cheap umbrellas from the Far East were now being imported in vast quantities.

Umbrellas in the 20th Century

During the last few years of the 20th century, greater innovation came to the world of umbrellas with new materials being included in the Far East manufacture. Umbrellas made of fiberglass and aluminum, were being built with double automatic mechanisms for opening and closing. Along with new fabrics and new coatings like Teflon, the entire market for umbrellas has undergone a transformation.

Umbrellas today are made with lightweight materials which are very durable, and which are absolutely ideal for keeping out both sun and rain, and it’s a good idea to always have one with you to shield against one or the other. A fine umbrella helps to show the world that even while it’s raining outside, you are prepared, and you can cut a good figure walking down the street.

Many umbrellas made today are also manufactured with the environment in mind, and are made of sustainable products which are highly functional, yet considerate of resources in our natural world.