February 10 – Umbrella Day

Posted on February 10, 2015

What protects you from rain AND sun? What can protect you from wind or can get totally (and literally) out of hand in the wind? What do Mary Poppins and British gentlemen always carry?

Of course we are talking about one of the most useful of inventions—the umbrella, also known as a sunshade, brolly, or parasol.

Did you know that umbrella gets its name from the Latin word for shade, umbra?

The first umbrellas were created as protection from the sun, probably in China in the 11th Century B.C.E. 

(There are ancient sculptures and other evidence for early umbrella use in ancient, India, Egypt, and other locales, too, and it is possible that there were several separate inventions of portable sunshades.)

Back in those early times, umbrellas-as-sunshades were generally used only by the richest and most powerful – and they were often held or carried by a servant!

Some time in the late 1600s and early 1700s, waterproof umbrellas that could shield people from rain started to catch on. 

In Britain, philanthropist Jonas Hanway is considered the first gentleman to carry an umbrella everywhere, rain or shine; and his constant use of the accessory created a sensation. However, his practice caught on, and soon enough almost all British gentlemen ALWAYS carried an umbrella. It became a sort of badge of Britishness and of gentlemanhood!

Since the late 1700s, we have more often used the word umbrella for devices especially made to be protection from rain, and the word parasol for devices especially made to be protection from sun. However, this is a modern distinction. 

Also, many umbrellas can be used against rain OR sun!
Christo and Jeanne-Claude erected
1,760 blue umbrellas in Japan...
...and 1,340 yellow umbrellas in California.
Christo's projects cost 26 million dollars!
A less expensive project covered
part of Talca, Chile, with 400 red umbrellas.
This looks like a similar art installation...
But it's really just a lot of people with umbrellas
in Hong Kong!

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