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Who Really Invented the Umbrella?

Stay dry today! Find out who really invented the umbrella.

Who Really Invented the Umbrella?

History of Umbrella

The umbrella is a common accessory for protection from the sun or rain, but have you ever wondered where this invention came from? Let's take a trip down memory lane and explore the history of umbrellas.

Ancient Umbrellas

It appears that umbrellas have been around for a long time and were used by ancient civilizations in different parts of the world. The first evidence of umbrella usage dates back to ancient China, where it was used to protect people from the sun. During the dynasty period, the umbrella was made of silk and paper and was used by high-ranking officials and the nobility.Ancient Egypt is another place where umbrellas were used for over 4,000 years, not for protection from the sun, but for ceremonial purposes. The umbrella was an essential part of the Pharaonic regalia, and it symbolized the power and authority of the monarch.In ancient Greece, women also used umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun. These umbrellas were made of feathers and peacock tails.

The Modern Umbrella

Fast forward to the mid-18th century, and the first modern umbrella was invented in England. Jonas Hanway, an Englishman, is credited with popularizing the use of umbrellas. Before, people did not use umbrellas, as it was considered unmanly to carry an umbrella. Hanway disregarded the stigma and used an umbrella to protect himself from the rain and snow.In 1786, Samuel Fox, an English inventor, came up with the idea of the steel-ribbed umbrella design. This allowed him to mass-produce umbrellas that could be sold inexpensively, making umbrellas more accessible to common people.In the 19th century, the design of the umbrella underwent major changes. The traditional wooden frame was replaced with a steel frame, and a waterproof fabric replaced the oiled cloth. The design also changed from a fixed to a collapsible one, allowing people to fold and carry their umbrellas with ease.

Evolution of Umbrella

Over the years, the design of the umbrella continued to evolve, making it more efficient and user-friendly. In the 20th century, people started using automatic and compact umbrellas, which could be opened with one hand and could fit inside a purse or a briefcase.Another significant improvement in the design of the umbrella was the addition of UV protection. With the increase in skin cancer cases, people started using umbrellas not only for protection against rain but also from harmful UV rays.In the present time, umbrellas are produced with various features like double-layered canopy, windproof construction, and reverse folding to prevent rainwater from dripping. Umbrellas with LED lights and Bluetooth speakers are also available for tech-savvy people.In conclusion, the umbrella has come a long way from being a symbol of authority in ancient Egypt to an accessory that everyone carries. The umbrella has seen several transformations, from being made of paper and feathers to being made of sturdy materials with various features. We all have our favorite umbrella, but we should never forget the people who put their time and effort into designing and improving this everyday gadget.

Learn about the history of the umbrella and who invented it in this PILLAR article.

Possible Umbrella Inventors

The presence of an umbrella in numerous cultures around the world means that the exact inventor of the umbrella is uncertain. However, there are accounts of possible umbrella-like objects in ancient civilizations that existed in regions such as China, India, and Egypt. For example, the Chinese were using waterproof parasols as early as 11th century BC, while the ancient Egyptians used palm fronds as portable shade.

It is also believed that the umbrella was brought to Europe from the Far East by merchants and diplomats. However, it wasn't until the 16th century that umbrellas began to be produced for widespread use in Europe. The early versions of these European umbrellas were bigger than today's compact umbrellas, and they were made up of wooden frames covered in oiled canvas or leather.

James Smith and Sons

Despite the uncertain origins of the umbrella, one thing is for sure: James Smith and Sons is a prominent umbrella manufacturer in London and has been around since 1830. The company was founded by James Smith, who was a respected umbrella maker in his time. His sons took over the business when he passed away and expanded on the foundation that their father had laid.

Today, James Smith and Sons is an institution in the world of umbrellas, known for its quality workmanship and attention to detail. The company has supplied umbrellas to the royal family, prime ministers, and other prominent figures in the UK and around the world. They continue to make traditional umbrellas by hand, using materials such as hickory wood, malacca cane, and Italian silk.

Other Claimants to the Invention

Various individuals have been credited with inventing the modern umbrella, including Jonas Hanway, Samuel Fox, and Jean Marius.

Jonas Hanway, a British merchant, is often considered to be the father of the modern umbrella. He started using umbrellas in the mid-18th century and even wrote a book about the benefits of carrying an umbrella. Hanway's umbrellas were made up of whalebone frames covered in silk, and they quickly became popular among the upper classes in London.

Samuel Fox, an English inventor, is another claimant to the invention of the modern umbrella. He patented the steel-ribbed umbrella in 1852, which became the prototype for the modern umbrella we use today. The steel ribbing made the umbrella much stronger and more durable, allowing for its wider use among ordinary people.

Jean Marius, a Frenchman, is credited with inventing the compact folding umbrella in 1710. His design was based on a parasol that could fold up into a smaller size, making it easier to carry around. This design inspired many other inventors to create a more compact umbrella, leading to what we know today as the folding umbrella.


Though the true inventor of the umbrella remains a mystery, it is clear that this useful tool has been around for centuries and has undergone numerous changes in design and function over time. James Smith and Sons and other umbrella manufacturers today continue to carry on the tradition of producing high-quality umbrellas that protect us from the rain and the sun, enriching our lives in the process.

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Umbrella in Culture and Society

Symbolic Meaning of Umbrella

Umbrellas have been used as symbols beyond their practical use of providing shelter from the rain. In literature, they are often used to represent protection, both physical and emotional. For instance, in the novel "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Lemony Snicket, the character Violet uses her umbrella to create inventions that defend and protect her siblings. In art, umbrellas are often depicted as a symbol of status, evoking an image of the elite under a shining sunshade. In Asian cultures, the umbrella is a symbol of royalty, safety, and good luck.

During political protests, the umbrella has also been used as a symbol of resistance. In Hong Kong, protestors used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray while calling for democracy during the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. The image of umbrellas held high in the face of adversity has become an iconic representation of peaceful protest.

Popular Culture References

Umbrellas have appeared in popular culture for decades, both in music and film. In the 1964 Disney film "Mary Poppins," the titular character uses her umbrella to fly and perform magical tasks. More recently, in Rihanna's 2007 hit song "Umbrella," the word itself is used as a metaphor for protection in a relationship. The single became wildly popular and topped the charts in several countries. Even the infamous scene in the 1991 thriller "Cape Fear," where Robert De Niro's character uses an umbrella as a weapon, has become a cultural reference.

Umbrella Industries

The umbrella industry has evolved to accommodate a diverse range of styles and features. Travel umbrellas have become increasingly popular, providing a compact and portable option for people on the go. These compact umbrellas often have a telescoping handle that collapses to fit in a bag or briefcase. Golf umbrellas, on the other hand, are wider and more robust to protect players and their equipment from the rain on the course. These umbrellas often come with features like wind-resistant frames and vented canopies to resist long gusts of wind.

Patio umbrellas are also popular, providing shade and shelter while enjoying outdoor activities and meals. These umbrellas often have a durable frame suitable for outdoor use and are available in various shapes and sizes. Beach umbrellas have also become a must-have accessory for vacationers seeking shelter from the sun while lounging on the beach. These umbrellas often have a convenient stake or anchor that can be driven into the sand and are designed to provide ample shade for multiple people.

In conclusion, the umbrella has grown from a mere shelter from the rain to a cultural icon. It has represented protection, status, and even peaceful protest. The umbrella industry has come a long way, offering different styles and features to meet the changing preferences of individuals. Whether you need a portable travel umbrella or a sturdy golf umbrella, the umbrella is a practical and versatile accessory worth investing in.

Future of Umbrella

Under the scorching sun or heavy rain, umbrellas have been a quintessential accessory for all seasons. Over the years, the simple design of the umbrella has evolved into a highly sophisticated modern gadget with advanced features such as solar panels, wireless connectivity, and much more. Let’s take a closer look at the exciting future of the umbrella.

Smart Umbrellas

In today's tech-savvy era, smart umbrellas are becoming increasingly popular. New technologies like GPS tracking, weather sensors, and Bluetooth connectivity are being integrated into umbrellas to make them more functional and convenient. These umbrellas can track the real-time weather forecast, send weather alerts on your smartphone, and even notify you when you accidentally leave it behind. There are also umbrellas that can sync with your phone’s music or help you navigate through your surroundings – all while keeping you dry.The development of smart umbrellas has made it possible for businesses to create personalized umbrellas for their clients. For instance, a business can manufacture smart umbrellas that work in sync with their health apps, and sports enthusiasts can pick umbrellas with fitness tracking capabilities. Smart umbrellas are perfect for individuals from all walks of life and are tailored to meet their specific needs and requirements.

Sustainable Umbrellas

With the increase of natural calamities such as floods and hurricanes, there is a pressing need to minimize our environmental footprint. Eco-friendly materials and production methods are being used to create umbrellas that are both durable and sustainable. These sustainable umbrellas are created from recycled plastic and natural fibers like bamboo or cotton. Manufacturing these products neutrally aid in reducing waste and cutting costs.The sustainable umbrella movement goal is to reduce the carbon footprint from traditional umbrella production. These sustainable umbrellas not only offer longevity to consumers but, it helps the environment by reducing the dependence on non-biodegradable materials. So, making the switch to sustainable umbrellas not only safeguards our planet but, it also takes care of one's wallet.

Challenges Facing Umbrella Industry

Despite the evolution of the umbrella industry, several challenges continue to hound the future of the umbrella. The umbrella industry faces challenges like competition from alternative rain gear, unpredictable weather patterns, and changing consumer preferences. The rise of waterproof jackets, ponchos, and hats are loosening the hold of umbrellas over the industry.Unpredictable weather patterns are also a concern for the future of traditional umbrellas since it may cause operational hick-ups. Additionally, changing consumer preferences and style patterns are bad news for the traditional umbrella industry unless manufacturers adapt to those changes.However, innovation in sustainable and smart umbrellas offers new opportunities for the industry to pivot in a positive direction. These new technologies are helping umbrellas keep up with the emerging needs, preferences, and expectations of consumers.


In conclusion, the umbrella's future is looking bright and exciting thanks to the innovations in technology and adopting eco-friendly materials. The umbrella has come a long way from being a simple rain gear. Smart and sustainable umbrellas are becoming increasingly popular due to their enhanced capabilities. These specific umbrella variations solve a user’s problem better and offer personalized and high-tech experiences that set them apart from traditional bumbershoots. While the industry still faces challenges from its competitors and unpredictable weather patterns, the ever-increasing demand for innovation guarantees that the umbrella industry will continue to evolve to meet its user’s needs.

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