The History of Umbrellas
June 19, 2011
We might now commonly associate umbrellas with protecting us from the rain, but they were actually originally invented to keep people out of the sun. Umbrellas also have a very long history and were created more than 4000 years ago. For instance, evidence of ancient umbrellas has been found in countries such as Greece and Egypt.
Interestingly, it was the Chinese who first decided to waterproof umbrellas to help keep out the rain. While today we use waterproof material for this, back then, people used wax and lacquer on paper umbrellas so they would be suitable for use in the rain. Despite the fact that the umbrella was invented so long ago, it didn't actually catch on in Europe until the 16th century, although the typically rainy weather in Britain and other Northern European countries meant that once it had been discovered, it certainly became popular fast.
So, where does the word "umbrella" actually come from? As you might expect, it finds its root in a Latin word, in this case "umbra", which means "shade". This reflects the umbrella's original use as shade from the sun. Over the years, umbrellas have also become much more compact and convenient to carry around, where once umbrellas were often made from large whalebone and canvas contraptions, steel has gradually been incorporated into the design and as they have become more common, the technology to make them collapsible has also become more common.
Overall, umbrellas have a long and surprisingly interesting history and, as one of the most useful accessories around today, they seem set to be popular for a long time yet.