Product Spotlight: Umbrellas!

Product Spotlight: Umbrellas!

From Ancient Egypt to the 21st century, umbrellas have helped us keep our cool and stay dry. Here's how it all began.

Rick Cundiff

Whether staying out of the sun or keeping dry in the rain, umbrellas are your friend. These versatile devices come in a range of sizes and styles, from small pocket versions to giant 60” golf umbrellas that can shelter two or more people.

That’s not all. Modern umbrellas can be surprisingly effective promotional tools as well. Let’s take a look at the fascinating history of these devices.

Parasols and Umbrellas – What’s the Difference?

Let’s start with some basic definitions. What’s the difference between an umbrella and a parasol?

The answer is, not much. Parasols came first, and the word generally refers to a device used to protect the user from the sun, rather than rain. The word parasol comes from the French para, meaning “to shield from” and sol, meaning “sun.”

The word umbrella comes from the Latin umbra, meaning “shaded” or “shadow.” The primary difference is that

Both umbrellas and parasols typically consist of a folding canopy supported by wood or metal ribs and mounted on a wooden, metal or plastic pole. The distinction between the two often comes down to the material used for the canopy. A parasol is not necessarily waterproof. Additionally, umbrellas can be transparent.

The Beginning of Umbrellas/Parasols

You might think umbrellas are a relatively modern invention. Not exactly – the earliest known use of parasols dates back to ancient Egypt around 2450 BCE. There’s evidence that King Tut and his family members used parasols to stay protected from the sun.

Those early umbrellas were made from leaves, papyrus and feathers. They tended to be heavy and a bit cumbersome.

Ancient Assyrians, Greeks and Romans adopted umbrellas as well. Historians have reported that umbrellas of the period were considered a mark of distinction, often carried by a servant and held above a king or other leader to protect them from the sun.

By the mid-16th century, umbrella makers found a way to use oil and wax to produce canopies that were waterproof. That produced the transition from parasol to umbrella as we know it today.

Making a Fashion Statement

By the late 1600s, Europeans discovered the umbrella. Fashionable women in Paris, London and Rome began carrying them just about everywhere to protect against the frequent Northern European rains.

At the time, umbrellas were considered too feminine for men to carry.  Englishman Jonas Hanway became the first man in England to carry an umbrella regularly, beginning in the mid-1700s.

He drew catcalls, thrown debris and insults from carriage drivers. It seemed they had a monopoly on dry transportation when it rained, and saw Hanway’s umbrella as bad for their business. In one case a carriage driver attempted to run him down.

The practicality of umbrellas meant that Hanway eventually prevailed, and started a British tradition of men carrying umbrellas. Because umbrellas were considered a fashion statement, they became increasingly ornate. Handle materials included ivory, leather and even silver.

In 1830, James Smith opened a small shop in London where he manufactured and sold umbrellas. As James Smith & Sons, Ltd., it’s still in business today, selling finely crafted umbrellas, walking sticks and accessories.

The Collapsible Umbrella

We owe the design that we know today as the modern telescopic umbrella to a German inventor, Hans Haupt. He patented the first such umbrella in 1928, creating the compact style popular today. These umbrellas are ideal for stashing in a purse or briefcase for that unexpected rainy day.

Modern Umbrella Styles

Today, it’s possible to find umbrellas in sizes all the way up to 80” canopy models that can shelter six or more people.  

On the other end of the spectrum, the compact foldable umbrellas that Haupt pioneered are designed for only one person. They’re compact enough to fit into a purse, briefcase, backpack or glove compartment. They’re the ideal go-to if you don’t want to be caught out when sudden showers appear.

Classic umbrellas are sized for one or two people, and generally don’t fold. They offer greater protection than a compact model, and are less unwieldy that golf umbrellas. They’re the Goldilocks “just right” type for many people.

Other popular styles include clear vinyl bubble-type umbrellas for better coverage and easier visibility. You don’t have to choose between tilting the umbrella to see where your going and staying dry.

With the myriad styles available, you can choose an umbrella that makes a statement of your personal style. Quietly elegant or boldly flamboyant is up to you.

Custom Promotional Umbrellas

Custom imprinted umbrellas are a relatively recent innovation in the umbrella world. They’re an excellent way to make your logo or brand stand out. Available in the full range of sizes, they can be a low-key branded item with a simple logo or script. On the other hand, a golf umbrella can make a big, bold statement, with plenty of real estate for your message. Either way, you’ll get promotional exposure every time they’re used.

Custom umbrellas make excellent giveaway products for staff recognition days. Your team is sure to appreciate a high-quality practical product that they can actually use.

Umbrellas also are a terrific way to show loyalty to a school, university or team. They make great fundraisers too. Loyal fans love to show their dedication, even in the rain.

When it comes to custom umbrellas, you have lots of color, size and imprint options to choose from. If you’d like to learn more about the marketing potential of custom umbrellas, call or email us. We’re happy to discuss the options and possibilities with you.







Rick Cundiff

Rick Cundiff

Content Director, Blogger

Rick Cundiff spent 15 years as a newspaper journalist before joining TJM Promos. He has been researching and writing about promotional products for more than 10 years. He believes in the Oxford comma, eradicating the word "utilize," and Santa Claus.