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What is the History of the Rain Umbrella?

The history of the rain umbrella actually doesn’t start with a story of rain umbrellas at all. Rather, the modern day rain umbrella was first used not to defend against the wet weather, but the sun. Aside from some accounts in ancient China, the rain umbrella originated as a parasol (the term more commonly used for a sunshade) and is documented as being used in areas such as ancient Rome, ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, the Middle East and India as early as the 4th century B.C. Of course these ancient versions of the modern day rain umbrellas were designed and built with very different materials such as feathers, leaves or leather, but the canopy shape is very similar to the products seen today.

In most cases the sunshade or parasol was used primarily by women in ancient times, but members of royalty, the clergy and other dignitaries are often shown in ancient drawings with these precursors to the rain umbrellas of today. It went so far in some cases that Kings would declare whether or not their subjects were permitted the use of a parasol, bestowing this honor only on his most favorite of helpers.

From most historians, it appears that the more common use of the rain umbrella (i.e. to defend against the rain) didn’t come until the 17th century (with some accounts from the late 16th century) in selected European countries, with the Italians, French and English leading the way. The umbrella canopies of the 1600's were woven out of silk, which provided limited water resistance when compared to the rain umbrellas of today, but the distinct canopy shape was unchanged from the earliest documented designs. Even as late as the 1600’s however, rain umbrellas were still considered a product only for distinguished women, with men facing ridicule if they were seen with one.

By the mid-18th century, the rain umbrella moved towards an everyday item among women, but it was not until the Englishman Jonas Hanway fashioned and carried a rain umbrella on the streets of London in 1750 did men begin to take notice. Although ridiculed at first, Hanway carried a rain umbrella everywhere he went, and by the late 1700’s, the rain umbrella became a common accessory among both men and women. In fact, in the late-1700’s and early 1800’s, a "Hanway" evolved to become another name for a rain umbrella.

Through the 1800’s right up until the present time, the materials used to create rain umbrellas have evolved, but the same basic canopy shape remains. Whalebones have been replaced with wood, then steel, aluminum and now fiberglass to manufacture the shaft and ribs, and modern-day treated nylon fabrics have replaced silks, leaves and feathers as a more weatherproof option.

At Cheeky Umbrella, our rain umbrellas take the traditional canopy design from the 4th century B.C. and combine it with the best in modern frame technology, 190T nylon fabric from the world’s largest fabric supplier, and fashion-forward design and colour to make high quality, stylish rain umbrella for today’s men and women. We hope you appreciate our version of the rain umbrella as much as we enjoy making them!


Crawford, T. S. A History Of The Umbrella. Taplinger Publishing, 1970.
Stacey, Brenda. The Ups and Downs of Umbrellas. Alan Sutton Publishing, 1991.