A collapsed history of the umbrella

Its origins are fuzzy, but it dates back to ancient times. Some say the umbrella originated in China. Others say it began as a modified fan for Egyptian and Babylonian nobles 3,400 years ago. In any case, an umbrella was originally for protection from the sun, not the rain. Women carried them in ancient Greece and Rome ("umbra" means "shadow" in Latin). Roman women first began to oil the paper sunshades to waterproof them.

The first English painting with an umbrella in it appeared in 1596. Umbrellas made of wood and oilcloth became popular as rain shields in the 1700s. In 1852, a collapsible model with steel ribbing appeared.

Men who use umbrellas should be especially grateful to Jonas Hanway. In 1750 he began carrying an umbrella with him wherever he went in London. Up to that point, only women used them. Men wore hats, got drenched, or took cabs.

Hanway was ridiculed. He angered cabbies, who feared that he'd put them out of business. What if everyone used umbrellas instead of cabs? Hanway persisted for 30 years. Other men found that umbrellas were cheaper than taxis.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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