"The American people never carry an umbrella. They prepare to walk in eternal sunshine."
Alfred E. Smith, U.S. politician
It was either the Chinese or the ancient Egyptians who first invented the umbrella. Early records from both cultures indicate that umbrellas were used to screen monarchs and people of high standing from the sun. The job of hoisting an umbrella above the emperor was often reserved for the servant of highest rank. The Chinese developed the technology furthest, waxing their paper parasols to provide protection from rain. Around 4,000 years ago, the Chinese also made their umbrellas collapsible, and since then the overall design has changed very little.
Making its way to Rome and Greece, the umbrella was used to shade women and even effeminate men from the sun while attending the open-air theater. These umbrellas were made from leather or skins. The umbrella reached England during the reign of Queen Anne, at the start of the eighteenth century, and were used only by women for protection from the rain. These umbrellas were made from waxed or oiled silk, which became difficult to open or close when wet. But umbrella use was discouraged by the religious, who saw it as interfering with God's intention to wet the faithful, and later on by carriage drivers, who lost business from people who could walk comfortably in inclement weather.
The umbrella's association with femininity was finally shaken off in the mid-eighteenth century when a writer and hospital founder named Jonas Hanway began to carry one. He was a man of poor health, who for thirty years carried an umbrella to ward off heat and cold. Gradually the umbrella came to be accepted by both sexes equally.