The concept of the umbrella has long preceded its invention. Man has been consumed by his necessity and obsession for shelter, comfort and convenience since the beginning of time

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One of the, if not the, major source of the umbrella’s power comes from its design and production. As I mentioned earlier, the umbrella is the simplest and best thing that does what it does; however, this does not single handedly ensure the survival of a thing. Many problems arise along the way of a thing’s existence that deal with availability, production materials and production methods that can render it ineffective and obsolete, or can propel it to new heights. Luckily, the production of the umbrella improved significantly in terms of design and materials used as time went on, which lead to stronger, lighter and easier to use umbrellas. As a result, more people could use them and saw them as having realistic value. Production advancements most definitely improved umbrellas market share and rose their popularity to levels that allowed for people to accept their common use in society and helped build the phenomena that is “The Umbrella.”
The umbrella of ancient times was made of bamboo and cloth, leaves, papyrus, or any other material suitable for providing some sort of shelter. The first people to waterproof the cloth were the Ancient Chinese; they waxed it and also derived the telescoping shaft, which is why they are credited with the creation of the first collapsible umbrella. Umbrellas progressed throughout time in a similar fashion; they remained bulky and cumbersome, and incurred many difficulties once wet. In addition, the progression of umbrella production was on a path of ineffectiveness: whalebone was used for the ribs and was not strong enough, how the ribs connected to the shaft was very confusing and often times caused problems, and the umbrella was still a clumsy object that was not very good at protecting its owner. The parasol did not encounter these problems since it was made specifically for those bright sunny days, it was light and decorated elegantly in comparison to the ugly, un-stylistic umbrella. However, there was hope in Europe still, and it would turn out that these new improvements would revolutionize the umbrella industry, namely steel ribs and top-notch and runner system. An excerpt from William Sangster’s, “Umbrellas and Their History” embodies these concerns.
“"The early Umbrellas were made of oiled silk, or glazed cotton cloth, and were very cumbrous and inconvenient. To judge from a picture of Hanway, and from the other old pictures mentioned above, they were small, with a very long handle. They were not used for walking, and consequently instead of the ferrule had a ring at the top, by which they were hung up. The stretchers were of cane, and the ribs of cane or whalebone. Instead of the present top-notch and runner, both ribs and stretchers were simply strung on a ring of

wire, and the inequality of the friction and the weakness of such an arrangement cause the Umbrella to be always getting out of order. The ribs and stretchers were jointed together very roughly, by a pin passing through the rib, on which the forked end of the stretcher

hinged. The first improvement in this respect was by Caney (patent No. 5761, A.D. 1829), who invented a top-notch and runner in which each rib or stretcher has a separate hinge. The top-notch was made of a notched wheel or disc, into each slot of which an axis fixed on the top of the stretchers worked. The runner was made on a similar

principle. At the point of the rib where the stretcher joined it, Caney fixed a middle bit, consisting of a small fork, in which the end of the stretcher was hinged. This construction was much stronger, and the forked ends of the stretchers were thus prevented from

wearing out the cover, as before. With modifications, more or less important, this construction is the same as that now in general use."
Sangster goes on to state that the two areas that needed much improvement was the strength and weight of the umbrella. Steel ribs, invented by Sam Fox in 1852, contributed to the increasing the strength and durability of the umbrella, as well as reducing its weight. However, the major improvement was in 1829 when Caney invented a new system for the operating of the umbrella. This allowed the umbrella to function effortlessly in the hands of a gentlemen or a lady, and offered superior durability and strength to earlier models in severe weather.
Production continued to improve as international rivalry fueled the competition to produce and export products to other nations for profit. From 1780 to 1840 there were twenty-six patents; in 1850’s alone, there were one hundred and twenty-six, and now over three thousand active patents pertaining to umbrellas. Parasols were always popular in the neighboring nations around England, in Italy, France, but it took much later for England to get involved, and when they did they had a substantial effect on the market. While other nations were known for their luxury (Italy, France, Japan, China, Portugal), England was known for producing low cost, quality products, which were cost effective because of their incredible advancements in manufacturing. However, they would later lose out to Japan, who would become the chief exporter of umbrellas worldwide, there is no debate as to the sudden rise and technological advancements that took place in Europe in the late 1700’s and middle to late 1800’s. One can attribute such a rise to Steam powered machinery, new raw materials and tempered metals, and the creation of precision tools. As a result of these improvements, the cultural gap between the parasol and umbrella seemed to vanish as many problems associated with the umbrella were no longer existent. Umbrellas have now become available, mainstream items that provide comfort and shelter for anyone with any budget, not just the rich. It is no wonder in this time of technological improvement that the umbrella explodes in popularity and becomes a necessity, rather than a hassle.

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