The Umbrella – History and Fun Facts

Photo WG2 smallHi!  Winnie Griggs  here.

Today is National Umbrella Day (who knew, right?).  It even has its own FACEBOOK PAGE.  And in honor of this little-known holiday, I thought I do a little research on the device and share it with you.


The umbrella itself has been around for about four thousand years.  Evidence of its existance has been found in drawings found in Egypt, Greece, China and Assyria.  But these early umbrellas were created not to protect bearers from the rain but from the sun.  In fact, the word umbrella comes from the Latin ‘umbra’ meaning shade or shadow.  The word parasol – which is the type of umbrella that appears in my stories – comes from the Latin word ‘papare’ (to prepare) and ‘sol’ (sun).

It was the Chinese who eventually waterproofed the umbrellas to protect the holder from rain.  They did this by waxing and lacquering the paper used to craft them.

It was early in the sixteenth century before umbrellas became widely accepted in Europe.  And even then it was considered a ‘woman’s accessory’.  Then along came Jonas Hanway, writer, philanthropist and founder of the Magdalen Hospital.  Born in 1712, he spent his young adult years travelling widely in Russia and Persia.  When he returned to London for good, around 1750, he carried an umbrella with him regularly.  Though he was often mocked for its use, before long it became a trend to have an umbrella handy.  In fact, for a while, umbrellas were known as Hanways.

1786 – The first patent for the umbrella with the circular coned canopy shape was registered by John Beale

Between 1808 and 1851 over 103 patents were issued for improvements and inventions related to umbrellas


Parasols became a popular feminine accessory in the early nineteenth century among aristocratic English women.  Some of the more enterprising of these women had the handles fitted to carry perfume, writing materials or even a dagger.

1830 – The first dedicated umbrella shop, James Smith & Sons, opens its doors in London.  It is still open today, in the exact same location.

1852 – Samuel Fox invents the steel ribbed design.  Before this time whalebone was used predominantly.  He claimed to have implemented the use of steel as a way to use up excess stocks of steel stays intended for women’s corsets.

1928 – Hans Hupt’s pocket umbrella arrives

1930s – the ladies parasol finally fell from popular fashion

In the U.S., the annual market for umbrellas hovers at around $350 million


The word Bumbershoot, a synonym for umbrella, is an Americanism that came into use in the 1890s (I always thought this originated in England)

During the Napoleonic Wars, some British soldiers took umbrellas with them into battle.  Some Americans also took umbrellas with them into battle during the Indian Wars.
The study of umbrellas actually has its own name – brolliology

More replacement umbrella purchases are made due to lost than broken umbrellas.  In London alone nearly 75,000 umbrellas are forgotten on buses and subways each year.

The superstition about it being bad luck to open an umbrella indoors came from an ancient African belief.  The umbrellas at that time and placed were used a sunscreens.  They believed it was an insult to the sun god to open an umbrella in the shade and that doing so would bring his wrath down upon them.

So what do you think?  Did any of these facts surprise you?

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at or email her at

25 thoughts on “The Umbrella – History and Fun Facts”

  1. Hi Winnie, I loved hearing about the umbrella. Who knew? I will definitely be using mine today and I will think about you.

    I had always heard about bad luck opening an umbrella indoors but the insult to the sun god by opening in the shade is new to me.

  2. Umbrella day? Too funny. I don’t think I will be needing one in the snow here today. It would make more sense if they made the day in summertime. 🙂

  3. Melanie – LOL on thinking about me when you use your umbrella

    Susan – I KNOW! Who thinks up all these off the wall ‘national day of’ events? And how does one go about seeing it makes it to a calendar?

  4. My grandmother, born in 1911, always called it a Bumbershoot! 🙂 It was fascinating to learn about the superstition of opening the umbrella in the house – I was always told it was because you could “sling” water into an electrical outlet if you opened it in the house 🙂

    Thanks for sharing these interesting facts!

  5. Hi Winnie! I was quite surprised to learn that the umbrella has been around for about four thousand years. Wow! I must confess that I had never given much thought to its origin before. How neat to know that the first dedicated umbrella shop is still open today, in the exact same location! Thank you for sharing these fun facts and interesting history. How fitting that we are enjoying a rainy day here today. I will use my umbrella and appreciate it so much!!

  6. Hi Anita – glad you enjoyed the post! And the explanation you had for not opening an umbrella indoors makes perfect sense to me 🙂

    Hi Britney – I enjoyed learning about that umbrella shop as well – just seems so typically British.

  7. Dang, men wanting to get soaked rather than use a “woman’s accessory.” Hope they got pneumonia, grrrrr. Super-interesting facts, Winnie!

    I had no idea there was n umbrella day, but I sure love ’em. We desperately need to put ours to use here in California…pray for rain, everybody!

    Loved the post today! xoxo

  8. Hi Tanya – glad you enjoyed the post – and isn’t it funny how fashions can change gender wise – at one time it was no big deel for men to wear exaggeratedly high heeled shoes.

    Mary – I don’t think you’re alone in that 🙂

  9. When my daughter went off to school in San Luis Obispo, CA., she needed an umbrella! She named it: Mr. Umbie. We bought several Mr. Umbies during her time there. When I lived in Davis, CA., I used umbrellas a lot, until one day during the rain, the wind blew! It turned my umbie into a cartoon picture of being inside out. I never used one up there after that. Now, where we live, the wind always blows when it rains, when it is nice, when it is hot, when it is cold…You get the picture. My umbie sits on a shelf, waiting to be used and it is sad. Of course, now, it hasn’t rained for so long that it might get crumbly if I open it up. And Tanya, the rain that has come to California via the Pineapple express, stops at about Yosemite and doesn’t come any further south, especially on the east side of the Sierra. They got a foot of rain in Sonoma County last week. Somebody started a rain dance and didn’t know when to quit.

  10. Interesting as usual. I will have to admit to using the umbrella for the sun more than for rain. While in the Peace Corps in the Philippines, the sun was so strong, it was almost a necessity. I had never considered using it that way, but most women do there and it worked really well. I haven’t used it much for the sun since returning to the States though. I only use it in the rain if it is really a downpour. A little water never hurt anyone and I am usually too lazy to dig out my umbrella.

  11. Hi Patricia – Interesting about the Phillipines – were the sun shades the same design as a rainy day umbrella? And I don’t fool with an umbrella if the wind is blowing either. Rather get wet than struggle with the wind trying to blow it inside out

  12. In the movie Aristocats the word bumbershoot is used as well. Very neat history about the umbrella. Thanks Winnie!
    Winnie My mom and I are planning on attending The Barbara Vey Reader’s luncheon in Milwaukee in April. I’ll be at your table and my mom will be at Debbie Kaufman’s table. I’m so excited!

  13. Sherri – it’s always fun to discover neat little tidbits when doing research!

    Jennifer!!! I’m so excited that you’ll be at my table. This will be my first time at the Barbara Vey luncheon and I’ve been really looking forward to it – now even more so!!

  14. Enjoyed reading about umbrellas. Never really understood why it was bad luck to open an umbrella inside. Thank you for all the information.

  15. Very interesting post Winnie. I have used umbrellas for the sun tho most women don’t. Guess they’d rather get hot and sunburned. Sure makes a difference. The trouble now days is getting it folded while trying to get it in a car. But still want one if it’s raining hard. And, my hair would look horrid if soaked. I remember hearing them called Parasols. And always heard the superstition of opening in the house but not a reason. But I do. when I bring it in soaked and dripping. I open and turn upside down to dry. Sure wouldn’t
    have guessed how long ago they first had them. It was neat about the business in the same for building for 184 years. Makes me wonder if it is still desendents
    that run it. That is amazing. Good built building. Maxie

  16. Hi Maxie – so glad you enjoyed the post. I know what you mean about trying to climb inside a car while trying to close them. I finally found one that closes with the push of a button – made life much easier!

  17. Winnie,
    The umbrellas we used in the Philippines to shade ourselves were just regular umbrellas. The same ones we used when it rained. When it rained there it was usually a deluge, so you really needed one.

  18. I love the tidbit about the umbrella shop in London which has been in business since 1830. That is priceless. How many businesses have lasted that long, much less a retail shop devoted to a single accessory article?

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