A small, portable device for controlling the weather.

If you take an umbrella with you, the weather is guaranteed to be dry, sunny and cheerful, especially if the umbrella is bulky and heavy.

If you don't take an umbrella with you, the weather is almost certainly going to be cold, wet and miserable. This is even more likely if you make a conscious decision to leave an umbrella at home.

This simple and usefully elegant item of rainy days has a long and interesting history.

Evidence of umbrellas in ancient history date back to four thousand years ago, through wall paintings in Greece, Egypt and China. These were intitally used as parasols, that is, to provide shade from the sun. It is thought that the Chinese were the first to waterproof their umbrellas for use in the rain.

The very word originates from the Latin root word 'umbra', meaning shade. It became a popular item in the 16th century, however it was an accessory deemed to be suitable only for women. This is where Jonas Hanway comes in, the man to which the invention of the umbrella is popularly attributed. In rainy weather, he took to carrying an umbrella around, so as to cleverly shield away the rain. At first, he was ridiucled mercilessly.. but over the span of thirty years the idea caught on and before long the umbrella soon became a popular essential amongst gentlemen and ladies. In England, the umbrella used to be referred to as a 'Hanway'.

The first umbrella shop was opened in 1830, "James Smith and sons" and is interestingly still located on its original site, 53 New Oxford Street in London, England.

Early European umbrellas were made of wood or whalebone and covered with alpaca or oiled canvas. The artisans made the curved handles for the umbrellas out of hard woods like ebony.

In 1852, Samuel Fox invented the steel ribbed umbrella design. He also founded the "English Steels Company", and claimed to have invented the steel ribbed umbrella as a way of using up stocks of farthingale stays, steel stays used in women's corsets.

Compact collapsible umbrellas were the next major technical innovation in umbrella manufacture, over a century later.

Um*brel"la (?), n. [It. umbrella, fr. ombra a shade, L. umbra; cf. L. umbella a sunshade, a parasol. Cf. Umbel, Umbrage.]


A shade, screen, or guard, carried in the hand for sheltering the person from the rays of the sun, or from rain or snow. It is formed of silk, cotton, or other fabric, extended on strips of whalebone, steel, or other elastic material, inserted, or fastened to, a rod or stick by means of pivots or hinges, in such a way as to allow of being opened and closed with ease. See Parasol.

Underneath the umbrella's oily shed. Gay.

2. Zool.

The umbrellalike disk, or swimming bell, of a jellyfish.

3. Zool.

Any marine tectibranchiate gastropod of the genus Umbrella, having an umbrella-shaped shell; -- called also umbrella shell.

Umbrella ant Zool., the sauba ant; -- so called because it carries bits of leaves over its back when foraging. Called also parasol ant. -- Umbrella bird Zool., a South American bird (Cephalopterus ornatus) of the family Cotingidae. It is black, with a large handsome crest consisting of a mass of soft, glossy blue feathers curved outward at the tips. It also has a cervical plume consisting of a long, cylindrical dermal process covered with soft hairy feathers. Called also dragoon bird. -- Umbrella leaf Bot., an American perennial herb (Dyphylleia cymosa), having very large peltate and lobed radical leaves. -- Umbrella shell. Zool. See Umbrella, 3. -- Umbrella tree Bot., a kind of magnolia (M. Umbrella) with the large leaves arranged in umbrellalike clusters at the ends of the branches. It is a native of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Kentucky. Other plants in various countries are called by this name, especially a kind of screw pine (Pandanus odoratissimus).


© Webster 1913.

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