Are Umbrellas Really 4000 Years Old?

Umbrellas are regularly depicted in the artwork of past centuries as fashion accessories or functional tools. It seems like they have been around since the beginning of time. Is it true that umbrellas are really 4000 years old? 

Umbrellas are 4000 years old. The first basic umbrellas were created in Ancient Egypt, China, and Greece. However, it is impossible to know an exact date or place the umbrella originated. Over time, the structure of the umbrella has changed to make it what it is today.

Umbrellas are quite universal. Not only are they used worldwide nowadays, but they were also developed around the same time frame in multiple places around the globe. Continue reading to learn more about the first umbrellas, how they’ve changed, and the various types that exist today.

When and Where Was the First Umbrella Made?

The first umbrellas recorded in history are quite different from the functional accessory we know nowadays. Truly, the basic design may even be unrecognizable to us as umbrellas. 

There is no way for historians or anthropologists to pinpoint exactly when and where the umbrella originated. However, they did pop up (pun not intended) in many places around the same time – over 4000 years ago. 

Egypt

Ancient Egypt was one of the first birthplaces of umbrellas. Their design and purpose were quite different from the modern structure. 

First of all, a bit of a back story. Inspiration for the umbrella came to Egyptians from two of their gods: Nut and Shu. These two were thought to have formed the sky. Shu is said to be holding Shu up as she formed an arch with her body. Together, they resembled the shape of an umbrella. Shu was the vertical shaft, and Nut was the fabric canopy.

Religious ties to umbrellas in Ancient Egypt do not end there, though. Of course, these two gods of the sky formed the umbrella’s shape, but there’s not much of a need for rain protection in the middle of a desert. So what were they used for?

These first instances of umbrellas were not actually umbrellas at all per se, but rather parasols. While parasols resemble the umbrella significantly, their use is to protect from the sun, not rain. Read more about the difference between parasols and umbrellas in this article.

In Egyptian culture, the concept of the shadow was associated with restoration in the afterlife, and fair skin was a sign that the sun had not touched you. So, sun protection was of the utmost importance for religious reasons. Thus, the parasol was created.

At the time, only people of nobility and royalty could afford parasols because their materials – leaves and palm branches, then later cloth and animal hide – were pricey and hard to come by.

China

Around the same time, in China, umbrellas were also on the rise. A key difference between umbrellas in Ancient China and those of Ancient Egypt is that the Chinese actually did waterproof theirs.

To do so, the Chinese coated paper in oil or wax and attached this material to the bark of mulberry trees or bamboo to hold it up. Silk was also a common fiber used to create the canopy. Like in Egypt, only Chinese dignitaries were the only ones to be found using umbrellas. 

Some incredibly powerful individuals, like the Emperor of China, carried umbrellas with multiple layers to display their superiority and influence.

Greece and Rome

While China had already developed the waterproof umbrella, a lack of trade routes from Asia to Europe prevented them from being imported to Ancient Greece and Rome. Instead, women were still using parasols as an extravagant accessory.

Again, it was only upper-class people who had parasols at the time, but they typically were carried by slaves and servants. In fact, the umbrella’s hooked handle was designed to make it easier for them to hold the parasol over their employer’s head.

During the hard economic times as the Roman Empire fell, parasols were almost entirely wiped out in Europe. Then, they were revived in the Renaissance era. With trade routes being established to China, the waterproof umbrella made its way back to the prestigious women of France, Italy, and England. 

How Have Umbrellas Changed Over Time?

While most of the umbrella’s structure has stayed constant over time, it has gotten some notable upgrades over the past 4000 years.

Modern Materials and Waterproofing the Umbrella’s Canopy

One of the umbrella’s most prominent modifications took place when it became waterproof. The canopy, or the fabric on the top that protects against the rain, has changed from natural fibers like cotton, paper, leather, or silk to a modern water repellent nylon. This upgrade took the umbrella from fashionable to functional. Read more about what umbrellas were made from here.

Umbrellas Gain Mobility

The umbrella did not always have the ability to open and close. In the 20th century, Hans Haupt developed the first collapsible umbrella. Just over 70 years later, Bradford E Phillips was granted a patent for it.

This adjustment made the umbrella more mobile, and thus, more accessible as well as convenient. 

Adding a Hooked Handle

As I mentioned a bit earlier, the umbrella’s hooked handle was added so that the servants of upper-class members could hold it above them. Then J-curve allowed these servants to grip the umbrella at a more suitable angle to cover their employers’ heads properly. 

Are There Different Types of Umbrellas?

Believe it or not, there are several different kinds of umbrellas. We’ll cover the basic ones, but you can read more about others by visiting Umbrella History’s list of umbrella types

Classic Umbrellas

The good old classic umbrella is the design that most people are familiar with. These models open and collapse by pressing a small piece and manually sliding it up or down the umbrella’s shaft. 

Automatic Umbrellas

The overall design of automatic umbrellas are similar to classic ones but hold one significant difference. Automatic umbrellas open with the click of a button, making them great options when your hands are full. 

When you only have one hand free, automatic umbrellas come in handy, but not if it takes two hands to stop them from blowing away. Repel’s Double Vented Umbrellas on Amazon solved that problem by manufacturing a windproof structure. Wind can pass through the canopy, but rain can’t get to you.

Travel Umbrellas

Travel umbrellas are exactly like they sound: mini versions of standard umbrellas that are great when you’re on-the-go. These umbrellas are lightweight and collapse down to almost nothing, but still provides exceptional coverage once opened. 

The EEZ-Y Windproof Travel Umbrella on Amazon fits perfectly in a backpack or purse, provides UV protection, and features a slip-proof handle. The durable build of these umbrellas are long-lasting, so you don’t have to compromise on quality for the sake of space.

Windproof Umbrellas

The last thing anyone wants is to be the person walking down the sidewalk amidst a thunderstorm with an umbrella that keeps flipping inside out. That’s exactly why windproof umbrellas were designed. There is constant innovation being done on these models to create the ultimate storm-safe umbrella. 

There are few windproof umbrellas out there better than the Weatherman Collapsible Umbrella on Amazon. Not only does it stand strong in winds up to 55 miles per hour (89 kilometers per hour), the product’s packaging is also made of 80% recycled fiber. Now you can do your part in protecting the earth while the umbrella protects you from its natural forces.

Final Thoughts

The umbrella does, in fact, date back around 4000 years, though it is impossible to say exactly when or where the first umbrella originated. People in Ancient Egypt, China, Greece, and Rome all developed early renditions of the umbrella around the same time, though the Chinese were the only ones making waterproof versions.

Read more intriguing facts about umbrellas in this article.

Over time, the umbrella has been updated so that users can have the best possible experience. These days, it’s still constantly improved upon. Whether you’re seeking an automatic, windproof, or lightweight model, your dream umbrella is somewhere out there.

When you purchase through links on this site we may earn a commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.