Rain or Shine: Umbrella Fact-Drop

Photo of Representative William D. Upshaw of Georgia, a leader of the drys, standing on railing with crutch and holding umbrella, with dome of the U.S. Capitol under the umbrella, April 20 1926.

Photo of Representative William D. Upshaw of Georgia, a leader of the drys, standing on railing with crutch and holding umbrella, with dome of the U.S. Capitol under the umbrella, April 20 1926.

A few facts to drop or paraphrase about umbrellas for today’s rainy day:

  • The oldest written reference to an umbrella is 21 AD for Wang Mang’s ceremonial four-wheeled carriage. The Chinese character for umbrella  is a pictogram.
  • A sanskrit epic, Mahabharata relates the legend of a bow shooter, Jamdagni, who had his wife, Renuka, recover his arrows. When she returned late from fetching arrows, she blamed the heat of the son, and he shot an arrow at the sun. The sun begged for mercy and offered Renuka an umbrella.
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  • Parasols, or umbrellas for the sun, were featured in art like Persepolis. They signified dignity in Ancient Egypt, often appearing over gods.
  • Parasol  (Spanish or French) is a combination of para, to stop or to shield and sol, meaning sun. The French call umbrellas parapluie, shields from rain. (Parachute means “shield from fall.”) Umbrella comes from Latin, umbel, a flat-topped rounded flower and umbra, shaded or shadow.
  • In Ancient Greece, parasols were items of female fashion. In Aristophanes’ Birds, Prometheus uses one as a comical disguise to hide from Zeus.

    Gustave Calliebotte's Jour de pluie à Paris, 1877

    Gustave Calliebotte’s Jour de pluie à Paris, 1877

  • The first lightweight folding umbrella in Europe was introduced in 1710 by Jean Marius in Paris. He received the exclusive right to produce folding umbrellas for five years. The item became an essential fashion item for Parisiennes after Princess Palatine bought one 1712.
  • In 1959, a French scientist combined it with a cane and a button that opened the umbrella. Their use became widespread in Paris and their prestige apparently plummeted. In 1768 a Paris magazine reported:

    The common usage for quite some time now is not to go out without an umbrella, and to have the inconvenience of carrying it under your arm for six months in order to use it perhaps six times. Those who do not want to be mistaken for vulgar people much prefer to take the risk of being soaked, rather than to be regarded as someone who goes on foot; an umbrella is a sure sign of someone who doesn’t have his own carriage.

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