It may surprise you that the history of the umbrella is long. Umbrellas are one of the oldest tools man has invented and has been around for centuries. According to ThoughtCo., “Ancient umbrellas or parasols were first designed to provide shade from the sun. The Chinese were the first to waterproof umbrellas for use as rain protection.”
The long handle and ribs, the long fingers that make up the canopy, of early umbrellas were made from whale bone or wood. The canopy was often made from palm frond, feathers, leather, or paper. When the Chinese started to use them to repel water, the paper was covered with wax and lacquer to waterproof them.
In the ancient world, when umbrellas were being developed, they were a sign of power and affluence. Only emperors or kings could use an umbrella, and they would not hold it themselves. The umbrella holder even became an official position within the royal court. The ancient Greeks and Romans used umbrellas in the same fashion as the Chinese, as a parasol for relief from the sun. They felt that to use an umbrella was effeminate and only for women, unless you were in a position of power.
As the Roman Empire spread, so did their influences. The umbrella wasn’t used in northern Europe until the Romans conquered these lands and moved north. After the fall of the Roman Empire, though, the umbrella disappeared in Europe. In the middle ages, European people used cloaks to keep dry instead. Around the 16th century, however, umbrellas started to appear in paintings as an accessory, and by the middle of the 17th century, there was more use among the population. The umbrellas popular then were made from silk and other expensive materials, and they were used as an accessory and fashion statement, not a tool.
The first lightweight folding umbrella was introduced in the 18th century. It was first designed to only block the sun, but soon after, they started to cover the fabric with wax to make them waterproof and repel the rain. This is when umbrellas took on the modern use and look seen today.
The overall look and function of umbrellas hasn’t changed much in 300 years. Advancements made in fabrics and waterproof coatings keep us drier than ever before. Better designs, and stronger materials have been introduced to better stormproof umbrellas, so they can withstand high winds.