Who Invented the Umbrella?
An umbrella is a device used for protection against the sun or rain and snow. The word derives from the Latin umbra, meaning "shade." A parasol is a small, delicate umbrella used especially by women as a sunshade. The word is derived ultimately from the Latin parare (to prepare) and sol (sun).
Umbrellas and parasols consist of a round screen made of fabric, oiled paper, or plastic. The screen is held in place by ribs that radiate from a central shaft by which the umbrella is held. Generally, the ribs are attached to the shaft by a hinging mechanism that pennits the screen to be raised and lowered. The shafts of many modern umbrellas are telescoping, so that the umbrella, when not in use, is small and easily carried.
Umbrellas are of ancient origin. They first appeared in the Orient, probably in China, from which they spread to other parts of the world. In some Asian countries, particularly India, Burma and Thailand, and in Africa, the umbrella has had ceremonial significance as an emblem of rank. In processions, umbrellas-often of great diameter and sometimes consisting of tiers, with elaborate fringe and tassels-were carried above the heads of state and religious dignitaries.
Umbrellas were used by women of ancient Greece and Rome for protection against the sun. After the dissolution of the Roman Empire their popularity declined, to be revived during the Renaissance in northern as well as southern European countries. The first English pictorial representation of an umbrella is dated 1596.
By the 17th and 18th centuries, umbrellas or, more properly, parasols became an accessory of costume, with shades of brocade or lace, shafts of ebony or bone, and jeweled handles of precious metals. In the 19th century no lady of fashion went out of doors in summer without a parasol.
Frequently, parasols were depicted in paintings, as in Georges Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.
Today, umbrellas used by both men and women, are more utilitarian in purpose- as protection in inclement weather. However, the drab umbrellas of the early 20th century, usually black, have given way to all sorts of bright patterns and prints and amusing designs.