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Umbrella’s, they have almost the same magic as a kite, don’t they? There’s something beautiful about watching them float down the street on a rainy day, a burst of color and imagination among the grey drizzling clouds overhead. The Gaelic word for umbrella is as beautiful as the device itself, scáth fearthainne, it directly translates (if broken down) into “rain shadow”.

The Secret Life of Umbrellas

Umbrellas have a long and august history, stretching back over four millennia to Egypt, Greece, China, and Assyria. It went through a lot of renovations since then, updates and changes to make it more relevant to those cultures that used them. China made, perhaps, one of the most important advances to them when they discovered a method of waterproofing involving wax and lacquer.

Umbrellas are commonly thought to have become popularized in the Western World in 1830, where the world’s first umbrella shop opened under the name of “James Smith and Sons”. This historic shop opened on 53 New Oxford Street in London England and is still there today, almost 200 years later.

But don’t think that umbrellas were just some handheld rain shade that never changed, designs have ranged from the beautiful to the patently absurd. Consider if you will the hat umbrella, that’s right, an umbrella that was physically part of the hat to which it was attached. We’ve all seen the novelty umbrellas that are attached to baseball caps, but this practice started almost 150 years ago when they were fashioned into the top of Top Hats.

And of course, that handiest of tools for the traveling adventurer, the pocket umbrella. It came about in 1928 when someone realized the need for a foldable umbrella that could be tucked away in case of emergency. Since then umbrellas could be kept in handbags and purses, satchels and suitcases, always ready for that unexpected shower.

Not Just For Rain and Sun

While we almost always think of umbrellas as being used for keeping off the rain and sun, there’s another use that came about as a result of their specific shape. When lined with a reflective surface, umbrellas can be fitted with lights and put on stands and used to reflect back a ‘soft light’ for those doing photography. It takes the light and diffuses it, softening the edges and reducing the sharpness of the shadows in the image.
So whether you want to be fashionable, or just keep dry or cool, take some time this umbrella day to appreciate this wonderful gadget!