10 things you didn’t know about umbrellas

Street decorated with colourful umbrellas (c) Shchipkova Elena / shutterstock

When it’s raining outside, our most trusted companion is the humble umbrella. There are so many different types of umbrellas: classic, foldable, bubble, storm, automatic, golf etc. and everyone has different umbrella tastes. Beside the fact that an umbrella is an indispensable item, we have scoured the Internet and found 10 interesting facts about them:

Umbrellas were invented in China

According to historical data, the Chinese were the first to invent a collapsible fabric dome in approximately 21 CE. The ancient rulers were interested in having some kind of shade covering for their carriages. Thanks to the Silk Road, the umbrella was then exported, first to Korea and Japan and then later across Asia and Europe.

Chinese people wearing an umbrella with decorated streets (c) eWilding / shutterstock
The first umbrella was invented in China. (c) eWilding / shutterstock

Umbrellas can be dangerous

The Bulgarian dissident writer Georgi Markov was assassinated on 7 September 1978 by an umbrella on Waterloo Bridge in London. The umbrella contained a hidden pneumatic mechanism, which injected a small poisonous ricin pellet. Nowadays, this kind of umbrella is called a “Bulgarian umbrella” due to the fact that the victim came from Bulgaria. Another dissident journalist Vladimir Kostov was a victim of a failed assassination attempt in the same year, however, this time in the Paris Metro. It is believed that these Cold War assassination attempts were organized by the Bulgarian Secret Service. During these secretive times umbrellas were also used to conceal guns and knifes, but this is a story for another day.

Umbrellas can stop bullets

It is obvious that umbrellas can protect you from the rain, sun or anything else dropping from the sky (snow, frogs, fish etc.). However, former French president Nicolas Sarkozy took this to the next level and carried a £10,000 armour-plated umbrella to protect him from attackers. This special umbrella could reduce the force of bullets and resist knife and dog attacks. It was made by The Real Cherbourg out of materials used in Formula One and space research.

Former president Nicolas Sarkozy (c) Frederic Legrand - COMEO / shutterstock
Nicolas Sarkozy likes armour-plated umbrellas to protect him. (c) Frederic Legrand – COMEO / shutterstock

The sun is responsible for the word “Umbrella”

Nowadays umbrellas are always associated with rain, but the word has its roots in the shade of the sun. Umbrella stems from the Latin word umbra which stands for “shade, shadow”. Soon after the appearance of the word in the English language, it changed its meaning from something that shaded you from the sun to something that protected you from rain.

The most famous umbrella

Do you know about a black sensible hat and a talking parrot umbrella that can make you fly? It might be the world’s most famous umbrella and all because of a magical and quintessential English nanny: Mary Poppins. She is usually recognized by her hat and parrot umbrella. She takes her magical umbrella with her wherever she goes. During the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics Mary Poppins group descended on flying umbrellas in one sequence to fight and defeat the nightmares of children.

The famous parrot umbrella of Mary Poppins (c) Zurbagan / shutterstock
The world’s most famous umbrella belongs to Mary Poppins. (c) Zurbagan / shutterstock

Only women once used umbrellas

Umbrellas were once an important symbol of femininity and only women would use them. In many ancient cultures it was a sign of effeminacy if men were using umbrellas. In general, umbrellas were often associated with wealth and high fashion. Not until the mid 18th-century the connection between femininity and umbrellas disappeared as the founder of English Magdalen Hospital was publicly seen using an umbrella.

Umbrellas can change their colour

You can find umbrellas in different shapes, colours and patterns, from the mundane to the extraordinary. But what if you wanted an umbrella that changes its colour constantly? To brighten up the bad weather there are some brands that create colour changing umbrellas, such as Squid London or Suck UK. It’s definitely a nice added feature for an umbrella.

A colourful umbrella lying next to a river (c) GracefulFoto / shutterstock
To brighten up the bad weather you can use a colour changing umbrella. (c) GracefulFoto / shutterstock

Songxia is the umbrella capital of the world

China is not only the inventor of the umbrella, but also the producer of the majority of umbrellas in the world! Songxia, one of the towns in the Shangyu City Zhejiang Province, is the largest umbrella production and export base in China. Therefore it has also been described as the umbrella capital of the world. About half a billion umbrellas, or 30% of China’s production, are manufactured in Songxia. There are more than 1200 umbrella manufacturers, employing roughly 40,000 people. They produce a lot of different types of umbrellas, such as rain umbrellas, beach umbrellas, golf umbrellas, kids umbrellas, fashion umbrellas, wedding umbrellas, etc.

“You can stand under my umbrella”

We are sure you all know the famous pop and R&B song “Umbrella” by Barbadian singer Rihanna. It appeared on her third studio album Good Girl Gone Bad and features American rapper Jay Z. The song refers to a romantic and platonic relationship and it focuses on the strength of that relationship. This song was a commercial success and topped the charts in the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. One interesting fact is, that the song’s chart performance generated controversy in the United Kingdom as the country was experiencing large amounts of rain and therefore excessive flooding at that time.

The singer Rihanna during a concert (c) landmarkmedia / shutterstock
Rihanna’s song “Umbrella” is worldwide famous. (c) landmarkmedia / shutterstock

Mysterious “Umbrella Man” was seen at JFK’s Assassination

On November 22, 1963, shortly after noon, President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade drove past Dealey Plaza in Dallas and a man opened his umbrella and waved it from east to west. Moments later, gunshots fell suddenly from the sky and the 35th president of the United States was killed. This man became known as the “Umbrella Man” and generated a lot of interest. Why did he have this umbrella? Was there a gun attached to it? Was he signaling the assassin(s)? These questions were topics for many debates for a number of years among the press and conspiracy theorists, but they were never answered until the day Louie Steven Witt, the “Umbrella Man”, appeared in front of the House Select Committee on Assassinations to testify about his umbrella. He was aware of all the rumors but he claimed that he was only heckling the president for his father’s role in cooperating with former Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s effort to calm down Adolf Hitler before World War II. The connection is quite interesting as Chamberlain liked to go out with a black umbrella. Even though he testified, there is still a lot of debate regarding the “Umbrella Man”.


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