UMBRELLA, a portable folding protector from rain (Fr. parapluie), the name parasol being given to the smaller and more fanciful article carried by ladies as a sunshade, and the en-lout-cas being available for both purposes. Primarily the umbrella (ombrella, Ital. dim. from Lat. umbra, shade) was a sunshade alone its original home having been in hot, brilliant climates. In Eastern countries from the earliest times the umbrella was one of the insignia of royalty and power. On the sculptured remains of ancient Nineveh and Egypt there are representations of kings and sometimes of lesser potentates going in procession with an umbrella carried over their heads; and throughout Asia the umbrella had, and still has, something of the same significance. The Mahratta princes of India had among their titles " lord of the umbrella." In 1855 the king of Burma in addressing the governor-general of India termed himself " the monarch who reigns over the great umbrellawearing chiefs of the Eastern countries." The baldachins erected over ecclesiastical chairs, altars and portals, and the canopies of thrones and pulpits, etc., are in their origin closely related to umbrellas, and have the same symbolic significance. In each of the basilican churches of Rome there still hangs a large umbrella.
Among the Greeks and Romans the umbrella ((mas, ff/aaSewc, umbraculum, umbella) was used by ladies, while the carrying of it by men was regarded as a sign of effeminacy. Probably in these southern climes it never went out of use, and allusions by Montaigne show that in his day its employment as a sunshade was quite common in Italy. The umbrella was not unknown in England in the lyth century, and was already used as a rain protector. Michael Drayton, writing about the beginning of the 17th century, says, speaking of doves:
" And, like umbrellas, with their feathers Shield you in all sorts of weathers."
Although it was the practice to keep an umbrella in the coffee-houses early in the 18th century, its use cannot have been very familiar, for in 1752 Colonel Wolfe, writing from Paris, mentions the carrying of them there as a defence against both rain and Sun, and wonders that they are not introduced into England. The traveller Jonas Hanway, who died in 1786, is credited with having been the first Englishman who habitually carried an umbrella.
The umbrella, as at first used, was based on its Eastern prototype, and was a heavy, ungainly article which did not hold well together. It had a long handle, with ribs of whalebone or cane, very rarely of metal, and stretchers of cane. The jointing of the ribs and stretchers to the stick and to each other was very rough and imperfect. The covering material consisted of oiled silk or cotton, heavy in substance, and liable to stick together in the folds. Gingham soon came to be substituted for the oiled cloth, and in 1848 William Sangster patented the use of alpaca as an umbrella covering material. One of the most notable inventions for combining lightness, strength and elasticity in the ribs of umbrellas was the " Paragon " rib patented by Samuel Fox in 1852. It is formed of a thin strip of steel rolled into a U or trough section, a form which gives great strength for the weight of metal. Umbrella silk is chiefly made at Lyons and Crefeld; much of it is so loaded that it cuts readily at the folds. Textures of pure silk or of silk and alpaca mixed have better wear-resisting properties.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)