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Pattaya Daily News

22 March 2010 :: 15:03:06 pm 16324

The History & Uses of the Umbrella

No one in or from the West wants to be caught outside in the rain without an umbrella. These handy devices come in an array of shapes and sizes, many that will conveniently tuck into a purse or glove compartment in case of a sudden downpour. Just about everyone owns an umbrella, but not many of us give them a second thought as to how they came about. What follows is a brief tribute to an item most of us take for granted.
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Parasol, gamp, umbrellery, bumbershoot, brolly, these are all known names for the simple umbrella that dates back as far as the fourth century B.C. with depictions displaying umbrellas that could open and close. The history of this invention dates back to different times in separate parts of the world, though historians are unsure of when exactly umbrellas came into play. Some say Egypt, while others say China.

Records on ancient China mention the invention of a collapsible umbrella as early as 21 A.D. Umbrella is another synonym for the term parasol, para, in this case, means shield/stop and sol means sun and umbrella is from the Latin ‘umbra’ meaning shaded. What is for sure is that they’ve been around a very long time. Originally, they were not intended to protect us from the rain.  The ancient Greeks and Romans used them as shade from the sun (as do Asians), with the Roman women oiling the cloth of the umbrella to protect it from moisture.

The umbrella was a part of the ancient sculptures at Ninevah seen above the chariots and carvings of ancient Egypt, used in various forms and like most countries in and around Asia, the umbrella symbolized monarchy. The Indian epic Mahabharata, (an account of a dynastic struggle and civil war in the kingdom of Kurukshetra,) which some date back to the fifth century BC,  but more realistically the eighth century BC, describes the umbrella as a protection from the sun and in the Deccan region of India, the Maratha princes addressed their king as ‘Chatrapati’ or ‘Lord of the Umbrella’

In the seventeenth century, the eastern voyages of Jean Baptiste Tavernier mentions the use of umbrellas on either side of the royal thrones throughout the princely states. Throughout the middle ages, the umbrella designs traversed the world, with the device being used more for ornamental functions than functional value. It became common to see umbrellas in the hands of photographers used as a diffuser.

It wasn’t until the 1600’s etiquette demanded that European women carry umbrellas known then as a parasol, along with matching gloves and hats, mostly as a shade from the sun. Sometime in the 1700’s, it became popular to carry wood and oilcloth models as protection from the rain.

In 1750, an Englishman named Jonah Hanway decided to carry an umbrella everywhere he went. This was unheard of as only women carried umbrellas and, because of this, he became the subject of much ridicule, but at least he was dry. Hanway carried his umbrella for 30 years and by the late 1700’s it became more acceptable for men to carry their “hanways.”

Because they were made of wood, umbrellas were not only expensive, but they were difficult to operate. In 1852, Samuel Fox invented the steel ribbed kind that we see today. We now have umbrellas for the rain and sun. We use them on the beach, while playing golf, and on our patios, balcony and decks. What would we do without our umbrellas?

Patty Brown

Photo : Internet   Category : Lifestyle

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