The History of the Umbrella

From use on patios and beachfront properties to protect loungers from the blazing sun to personal protection from the rain and sleet that falls from above, the umbrella has spent centuries earning its status as a necessary accessory in many peoples' lives. However, although many of us use umbrellas frequently to shelter ourselves with shade or prevent ourselves from getting soaked, we rarely stop to think about the history of the umbrella -- an item we can seldom do without.

The brolly, bumbershoot or gamp

With a storied past dating back thousands of years, the umbrella -- also known as a brolly, bumbershoot or gamp in various parts of the world -- is a type of canopy that was created out of a need for protection against rain or sunlight. The name 'umbrella' was originally derived from the Latin word 'umbra,' which means 'shade.' Although the term 'umbrella' is generally used when referring to an item that protects against rain, another word -- parasol -- is used when referring to a canopy that provides a defense from the sun's harmful rays. The term gains its meaning from the word 'para,' which means 'shield,' and 'sol,' which refers to the sun -- hence, shielding one from the sun.

Protection for the rich

The present day umbrella has its historic roots in countries as wide and varied as ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome, China, India and nations of the Middle East. In its earliest years, umbrellas and parasols were primarily used as protection from the elements for the rich and royal, and were generally held high above their heads by servants or attendants. As time wore on, parasols and umbrellas began to branch out of their protection purposes as they eventually became known as fashion statements, and were made from materials such as palm leaves, feathers and oiled silk.

Stronger is better

In an effort to make the protection offered by umbrellas more effective, the wood and baleen originally used to form the frames were replaced with steel in 1852 so that the accessory could quickly and efficiently be folded when not in use. To provide the best level of protection from the rain, umbrellas were also once coated in a wax or lacquer, which was later replaced in the modern day umbrella by nylon, cotton and plastic materials that make the accessory waterproof.

Once considered a luxury item specifically geared toward the elite of society, the umbrella has since become a much-needed accessory that serves its original purpose of protection from the elements better than its original creators could have ever imagined.

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