If you live in the UK or Ireland or Canada, you’d be very soggy a lot of the time without this simple but clever invention.
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. The umbrella was invented around 2000 BC in China, and not a moment too soon, it was bucketing down. Collapsible parasols, or sun shades, had been around even longer than that: the earliest evidence of a parasol is an engraving from around 2400 BC in modern-day Iraq.
The Chinese seem to have been the first to have the bright idea of making them waterproof, using wax or lacquer. During the Wei Dynasty, the emperor’s umbrella was red and yellow while everyone else had to have a blue one.
The Chinese invention spread to Japan, Korea, Persia and Western Europe. The first European umbrellas had ribs made from wood or whalebone and were covered with oiled canvas.
In 1852 Samuel Fox, a manufacturer of women’s corsets, had lots of steel corset ribs left over and came up with the idea of using them for umbrellas. It was another hundred years before the giant leap forward in umbrella design of compact collapsible umbrellas. But the basic umbrella design has stayed the same for thousands of years.
The very latest umbrellas use nanotechnology to make them bone dry after a good shake. The special umbrella fabric doesn’t absorb water.
In 1952, Cilaos, on the island of Reunion, took the record for the highest rainfall ever in 24 hours. It is estimated that parts of the Atacama desert in Chile haven’t had rain for many years. In a rainforest, up to how long can it take for the rain to hit the floor?
Reigning umbrellas: The first shop to sell nothing but umbrellas was James Smith and d Sons, which opened in 1830 in Foubert Street in London. It moved to New Oxford Street in 1857 and it’s still there and still in business.