The first umbrella

San Francisco’s been a miserable rainy mess for a week or week and a half or, hell, 300 years, and a few days ago, while walking through the downpour I found myself singing the praises of the umbrella. I’ve seen seemingly ancient paintings from Europe and Asia depicting ladies with their umbrellas and began to wonder, well, who came up with this idea first? It seems like a pretty obvious invention, but, well, so does every perfect invention. Was this, like pasta, the innovation of a genius or two that spread quickly, upon discovery, to Europe? Did peoples continents away scheme the umbrella into existence simultaneously? This is where my mind’s at at 6:30 in the a.m. So deliberate dearies, because I’m still drunk.

Yes. I’ve answered my own boring question. Or rather, Mary Bell & the Internet have. For those three of you who are dying to know:


Make that Mary Bellis. May I have another?

Allow me to save you from a one-man discussion by asking a tangent question.

Before the first umbrella were big hats used to keep the rain off? Or was that a later invention. Sort of a ‘hey, I can take this umbrella and wear it on my head. That way I can still work in the fields.’

According to my exhaustive research, umbrella hats are the sole property of barbequeing rednecks

I also have no idea how to make links work. So bear that in mind.

Umbrellas have been around, according to the listed article, since the Egyptians, originally intended for sun (umbra meaning “shade”) but the Chinese were the first to water proof them. However, I am the inventor of all hats, of course. Or…read below.

“One of the first hats to be depicted was found in a tomb painting at Thebes and shows a man wearing a coolie-style straw hat. Other early hats include the Pileus, which was a simple skull cap, the Phrygian cap, which became identified later as the ‘liberty cap’ given to slaves in Greece and Rome when they were made free men, and the Pestasos which comes from ancient Greece and is the first known hat with a brim.”

Lookin’ good. Now put on that umbrellahead and grill me a steak. Medium rare, please, Elmont.

That guy needs a bigger umbrella hat.

I guess I was thinking more of like these hats.

He would be unstoppable with the Chinese peasant hat. Or the propeller beanie. Either way

According to a book I read recently, Continental Drifter by Tim Moore, the umbrella was introduced to England by the same man that brought us the fork - one Thomas Coryate. He encountered it in Italy, where, naturally, it is used to bring shade from the sun. (in Italian umbra means shade.)

I should add that Coryate made his tour of Italy in 1608, so he precedes this Jonas Hanway character in the article the OP linked to by more than a century. Oh, and it was apparently Coryate who coined the word “umbrella”.

More info on Thomas Coryate.

How’s that biography? This fella sounds fascinating. The fork, for God’s sake…what the hell were they eating with before? I can only assume everything was finger food. Either that or pointy sticks were all the rage.

Also interesting: parasol is literally “para” (for) “sol” (sun), and the Spanish & French translations of umbrella mean literally “for rain”. Umbra is also present in the Spanish sombrero and, weirdly enough, is a Latin root for ghost.

The choices would have been:
(1) fingers
(2) stab it with your knife and eat it off the knife
(3) break off a piece of bread (with your fingers or your knife), and mop up the liquid parts with that.
(4) lick your platter clean.

Of course, in East Asia, they use “pointy sticks” (called in English chop sticks) instead of forks, but those have never caught on in Europe.

Yes, yes. I’ve heard of these sticks. Stabbing meat with these darlings is considered uncouth however.

Also, we should revert back to eating meat off a knife, like the Gauchos do. There’s something magical about that.

He does seem to have been an interesting man. I can heartily recommend Tim Moore’s book in which he follows in Coryate’s footsteps. It’s not a scholarly tome, but you will laugh out loud. (The title is different in the States, I notice.)

A funny biography would be a welcome respite from the usual, dry, detailed rehashing of borderline famous jackanapes.

On the reply to thread page, just above the gray box you type your reply, there is a series of icons that allow customization of your reply without having to remember coding. To add a link, just click on the little blue earth with the chain link and a dialog box will appear. Type or paste the the word or words you want to hyperlink, click OK, then type or paste the site URL in the next dialog box, click OK again and it’s all done for you.

I always thought the first umbrella was a palm leaf of some kind. Grog the caveman wants to see Ooola the cavewoman but it is raining out side and he would hate to show up at her cave smelling like a wet dog. So Grog grabs a leaf and stem from a nearby palm tree and it does a great job of keeping the rain off. Unfortunately for Grog, he still smells to high heaven because he hasn’t bathed in 3 months and Ooola doesn’t want to have anything to do with him. Poor Grog.