History of the Auto Tilt Umbrella

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  • Author Tonya Kerniva
  • Published August 2, 2009
  • Word count 648

While the auto tilt umbrella and modern outdoor furniture are relatively recent innovations, the concept of patio umbrellas dates back to ancient times and enjoys a rich past that spans the globe. Outwardly a humdrum topic, patio umbrellas held a coveted place in palaces and protected early man.

The word umbrella comes from the Latin word "umbra," meaning shadow. The very first umbrellas were a far cry from the auto tilt umbrella, simple canopies made from the branches of banana trees. Most likely, early man was inspired by the natural umbrage offered by trees during the hotter parts of the day, when man would rest from hunting and gathering. Animals, especially those living in the desert know all too well the vital importance of having shade.

It was between 1100-1200 BC in China or Egypt that we first saw the nascent designs of the modern umbrella. In ancient Greece and Rome umbrellas were used to protect against the sun, while Roman women first invented the idea of stronger and practically waterproof umbrellas by oiling their cloth canopies to create a seal.

In a lot of cultures, having fair skin was a sign of privilege, and in ancient Egypt a sign of nobility. The royal court took the umbrella concept and modified it into parasols that would keep their skin from tanning. In Assyria, the king and only the king was allowed to carry an umbrella. In Greece, women became associated with the use of parasols, and one would be carried over the statue of Dionysius during festivals. It was also used to honor the Pallas Athena. The connotation with women and umbrellas eventually led to the practice of women carrying frilly parasols around as a fashionable accessory.

During this time, outdoor umbrellas more akin to the patio style ones began appearing throughout Egypt, Assyria, China, Greece and India, evidenced in artwork of the time. Sculptures depicting patio umbrellas were found in the archaeological digs of such cities as Nineveh, Persopolis and Thebes. According to religious belief, umbrellas symbolized fertility and rebirth. The Egyptian goddess Nut was compared to an umbrella because of how her body covered the earth.

In China, umbrellas became elaborate and ornate affairs reserved for royalty. The unique thing about the ancient Chinese umbrellas was not necessarily their size but their tiers. The Emperor was said to have four tiers on his. Better than that though was the King of Siam’s nine-tiered parasol. This may be a very rough precursor to the dual wind vents so popular in oversized golf umbrellas.

In the Middle Ages, parasols were accepted as a part of religious ceremonies, today called an ombrellino. The Pope at that time would carry one. Its origin stems from a brown and white umbrella first given by Constantine the Great, and a striated gold and red canopy umbrella is shown above the cross keys of St. Peter. The church was actually quite influential in the spread of umbrellas through Europe, beginning in Italy.

When it reached England, the umbrella exploded in popularity. And it was not for shading like you’d find with the auto tilt umbrellas. Rather, the British appreciated the invention because of their notoriously bad weather. Patio umbrellas could be seen outside coffee shops between 1685 and 1705 to protect their patrons. The first specialized umbrella store was called James Smith and Sons. Open since 1830, they still operate out of their store in London. As umbrellas evolved, Samuel Fox is credited with inventing a steel ribbed umbrella in 1852 out of the remnants of women’s corsets. In 1885 William C. Carter patented an umbrella stand, and thus paired with the steel ribbing, the modern patio umbrella came into being.

The auto tilt umbrella followed not long after. Initially, it opened manually, but in the last few decades the automated models were perfected. Among them, the collar tilt and shade-dial each have different mechanisms.

Tonya Kerniva is an experienced research and free lance writing professional. She writes actively about Patio Umbrellas and Auto Tilt Umbrellas.

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