Low cost and high impact, the umbrella is one of our bestsellers. Here’s a few fascinating facts about the humble brolly:
1) Made in China
Although you might suppose the umbrella was invented in the UK to protect us from the country’s frequent rain showers, it is believed to have originated in China in the 11th century BC as a form of sunshade. The word umbrella is derived from the Latin ‘umbra’ meaning ‘shaded’ and the first brollies were probably no more than large banana leafs.
2) The Bigger The Better!
In many civilizations in ancient history, a person’s status was illustrated by the size and showiness of their umbrella. Only those who did not have to toil in the sun could enjoy the privilege of fair skin and to ensure the skin remained untanned, umbrellas were a must for the wealthy. And the fancier the better – records show that the Emperor of China’s umbrella had four tiers, while the King of Siam’s had seven, each having an elaborate fringe and tassels. In African, the umbrella is still regarded as emblem of rank.
3) Women Only
Umbrellas didn’t arrive in England until the late 1600s – popularised amongst well-to-do women by Catherine of Braganza from Portugal, when she came to Britain to marry Charles II. However, they were still only used as protection from the sun. It wasn’t until early in the 1700s that umbrellas started being used in wet weather; initially by coffee houses, to shelter customers as they walked to their carriages. It was seen as effeminate for men to carry an umbrella, but Jonas Hanway, founder of the Magdalen Hospital in London, changed public opinion by becoming the first man to publically do so. In fact, for some time umbrellas were known as Hanways.
4) A Pocket Revolution
The first telescopic pocket umbrella was launched by Hans Haupt’s company, Knirps, during the 1930s in Berlin. ‘Knirps’ is a German word meaning ‘little guy’ and became a by-word for the pocket umbrella. They even became a popular gift for communions, birthdays, Christmas and other special occasions. Knirps umbrellas are still available today.
5) Still Made in China!
The majority of umbrellas are still manufactured in China. The city of Shangyu alone has more than a thousand umbrella factories. Umbrellas today are made from Teflon-coated nylon rather than oiled cotton canvas and – since they can be printed on – can be produced in an almost limitless array of colours and patterns. Large golf umbrellas became popular in the late 1970’s as the ideal promotional product for companies to advertise on.
6) Endlessly Useful
Research has shown that people only discard umbrellas when they are broken, which means the umbrella offers huge return on investment for companies looking for corporate gifts. Beside wallets and keys, the umbrella is one of the most commonly carried items, however, it is also one of things most frequently left on public transport. London Underground collects around 80,000 forgotten umbrellas a year! Given these statistics, it’s safe to say an umbrella will always be a desirable giveaway.