Umbrellas were once used only by women.
Source: Original photo by Gina Guarnieri/ iStock
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Umbrellas were once used only by women.

Umbrellas have been around for a long time — at least 3,000 years, according to T.S. Crawford's A History of the Umbrella — but they were used by only select segments of the population for much of that history. Ancient Egyptians used them to shade their pharaohs, setting the tone for an association with royalty and nobility that would also surface in China, Assyria, India, and other older civilizations. Meanwhile, they were deemed effeminate by ancient Greeks and the Romans who assumed many of their cultural habits. It should be noted that these early umbrellas protected against the sun, not rain, and were generally used by women to shield their complexions. The association between women and umbrellas persisted through much of Europe for centuries, and stubbornly remained into the 18th century, even after the first waterproof umbrellas had been created (around the 17th century in France).

Baltimore was once the umbrella capital of the world.
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It's a Fact
The nation’s first umbrella factory was founded in Baltimore in 1828. The Beehler Umbrella Factory motto was “Born in Baltimore, Raised Everywhere!” By the 20th century, Baltimore factories made 1.5 million umbrellas annually, and the city was deemed the umbrella capital of the world.

In England, at least, the man credited with ushering in a new age of gender-neutral weather protection was merchant and philanthropist Jonas Hanway. Having spotted the umbrella put to good use during his many travels, Hanway took to carrying one through rainy London in the 1750s, a sight met with open jeering by surprised onlookers. The greatest abuse apparently came from coach drivers, who counted on inclement weather to drive up demand for a dry, comfy ride. But Hanway took the derision in stride. Shortly after his death in 1786, an umbrella advertisement surfaced in the London Gazette, a harbinger of sunnier days to come for the accessory’s reputation as a rain repellant for all.

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Numbers Don’t Lie
Umbrellas owned by the average person in Japan, per a 2014 survey
Diameter, in meters, of the world's largest umbrella
Number of umbrellas sold annually in the United States
33 million
Consecutive weeks Rihanna's "Umbrella" topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 2007
The English word "umbrella" originates from the Latin term "umbra," meaning _______.
The English word "umbrella" originates from the Latin term "umbra," meaning shade/shadow.
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Think Twice
Umbrella champion Jonas Hanway was a pronounced opponent of tea drinking.

You'd expect a man bold enough to navigate the hardscrabble streets of 18th-century London with a dainty umbrella to possess a certain determination to get things done, and indeed, Jonas Hanway was a champion of many causes. He founded the Marine Society to recruit cadets for the navy, served as an executive for the Foundling Hospital children's home, advocated for the safety of chimney sweepers, and even attempted to convince a nation of tea drinkers that they were doing something profoundly wrong. This last effort came by way of his 1756 work "An Essay on Tea," which summed up the evils of the seemingly benign refreshment with the subtitle: "Considered as pernicious to health; obstructing industry; and impoverishing the nation." As with his umbrella crusade, his zealous stance on tea drinking was met with a degree of public mockery, most notably in a response by famed British writer and lexicographer Samuel Johnson in Literary Magazine. But there was no posthumous redemption to be earned in this particular arena, as his countrymen and women went right on indulging themselves with the beverage, and continue to do so to the tune of 100 million cups daily.

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