The umbrella is a classic accessory and functional tool that really hasn’t changed all that much over the course of time. From the long hooked handle to the curved canopy to the spiked top, it’s safe to assume this design is pretty much perfect. Most of the construction makes sense practically, but why do umbrellas have a pointed end?
The reason umbrellas have a pointed end, or ferrule, isn’t clear, but it likely mimics the spike of a walking stick that provides good traction. Victorian women also used umbrellas as weapons, which may have also influenced the design. The ferrule also ensures the umbrella stays together properly.
The exact history of the pointed ferrule remains a bit of a mystery, but this little piece holds a lot of importance when it comes to function. We’ll go more in-depth on its purpose, some possible reasonings behind the pointed end, and how the umbrella has become more modernized.
A Bit About the Ferrule
Before we get into the reasoning behind why the end of an umbrella is pointed, let’s cover the basics.
First of all, in case you’re already feeling lost, the part of the umbrella’s structure we’re talking about is the opposite end to the handle. It’s the very tip of the umbrella that would be pointed at the sky when opened. This is called a ferrule.
According to Oxford Languages, the word ferrule also refers to any sort of metal cap or ring that forms or strengthens a joint. In the umbrella’s case, that’s exactly what it does. This little ring actually plays a big part in holding your umbrella together and keeping you dry.
The ferrule’s most basic function is to attach the canopy (the stretched fabric that the rain hits) onto the shaft (the long rod that holds the umbrella up). The biggest responsibility of this metal tip is to prevent the canopy from sliding off of the end. Nothing would ruin your day like getting drenched in a downpour because the fabric fell right off of your umbrella, so we can thank the trusty ferrule for holding it all together for us.
The ferrule, however, is not a one-trick pony. This tiny metal cap plays another part in keeping your umbrella in one piece. Some umbrella shafts are composed of wood, primarily from ash trees. While this is a sturdy material of choice, it’s definitely not immune from the power of the elements.
In the wet rain, the fibers in the wooden shaft expand, so the ferrule can also help prevent this wood from cracking or splitting. Who would have thought this little piece would have such a significant role?
Why Are Ferrules Pointed?
After all this time, you’d think the answer to this question would have become very clear. Why bother adding such a prominent piece to the construction of the umbrella? Did it have a function, or was it purely for the sake of design? Surprisingly, the answer actually isn’t blatantly obvious. Here are some speculated reasons why the classic ferrule is so pointed.
Don’t laugh; this is actually historically accurate. Women of the Victorian era loved parasols. While none of us would really think an umbrella is a fashion statement these days (who carries one of these around just for fun?), ladies of the 19th century were on a different wavelength.
Victorian parasols were ornate, stunning, and a weapon? Yup. As women became more independent, they soon realized they needed a way to defend themselves from men’s unwanted advances (sounds familiar). Sharp, yet functional hatpins became the weapon of choice for these ladies but soon were banned for the amount of violence these accessories were causing.
Consequently, umbrellas became a new tool of choice. It seems unlikely that umbrellas got their pointed-end design from the need for a self-defense weapon as European use of this rain-shielding accessory dates back to the 1600s, but they certainly filled a required need.
Umbrella combat became so increasingly popular that women actually started instructing Victorian Umbrella Defense classes. These days, you can purchase self-defense umbrellas like this popular safety umbrella on Amazon model that are incredibly strong, making them perfect weapons when you need them. Every purchase also comes with a free downloadable tutorial to give you some defense tips and tricks.
Again, though it likely doesn’t coincide with the actual origins behind the pointed end, the use of umbrellas as weapons may very well have encouraged longer, pointier ferrules to stay around.
Though it is much less exciting than the thought of parasol street combat, it’s probably more likely that the long ferrule was added so the umbrella could double as a walking stick.
As people carried umbrellas upside down by their hooked handles, a lengthier point at the end would help prevent the fabric canopy of the umbrella from getting too dirty or tattered. These became the new go-to accessory for Victorian men and replaced walking sticks. So, it would make sense that the longer ferrule may be connected to these.
Relatedly, canes or walking sticks also have ferrules at the ends of them. Some are even available with spikes on the point-end for improved outdoor traction for use on trails, mud, or ice. A product like the SE Natural Wood Walking Stick with Steel Spike on Amazon bears significant resemblance to the umbrella’s pointed ferrule.
It’s quite likely that an umbrella’s pointed end draws inspiration from the design of a walking stick, especially because of the point in time at which it gained popularity.
Do All Umbrellas Have a Pointed End?
Actually, no. Not all umbrellas have a pointed end. Traditional models do, though. All umbrellas do, however, have a ferrule.
As we talked about earlier, the ferrule bears the important role of keeping the canopy attached to the staff. Without this piece, you’d always be running the risk of the fabric sliding off when your umbrella is open.
If you take a look at classically styled umbrellas and parasols such as those from the Victorian era, you’ll see that not only are they much more ornate, but their pointed end is much more, well, pointier than most of the ones you’ll pass by while walking the streets of Seattle.
In the age of convenience, many folks opt for collapsible umbrellas that can fit easily into a purse or backpack. Those antique Victorian ones are not going to be the best when it comes to saving space. They also possess a bit of a safety concern. It seems we have side-stepped the worry of potentially stabbing others or poking out the eyes of passersby with the swift removal of this pointy end.
Instead, lots of modern umbrellas instead have a flatter ferrule. Instead of forming an aggressive peak, this acts more like a cap. The ends of some umbrellas on the market still have that iconic point at the top, but others are discreetly placed and lay much flatter. Ferrules camouflage much better now than they once did.
Does It Act as a Lightning Rod Since It’s Metal?
Chances are, the ferrule of your umbrella is not going to make you an automatic lightning rod. Lightning will always take the path of least resistance, aka the fastest way it can get to the ground.
There’s nothing automatically magnetizing about metal and lightning. Metal is a conductor of electricity, so using it in a storm might not be the greatest idea, but you won’t attract lightning any more than normal. If you aren’t the tallest object in the vicinity, you likely don’t have to worry too much about this.
It’s actually not completely clear why the standard design of umbrellas includes a pointed end. The ferrule is an important component of the accessory as it ensures the umbrella remains fully intact, but the reason for the long point isn’t obvious.
Victorian women’s usage of umbrellas and parasols as weapons may have influenced the style. However, it’s more likely that the umbrella’s overtaking of the walking stick caused practical features like the spikey end to transfer over to the new popular accessory.