umbrella weather

Photo: Adobe Stock

History’s greatest cover-up: World comes out to celebrate the humble brolly

February 10 is World Umbrella Day: We have a look at how umbrellas have weathered time.

umbrella weather

Photo: Adobe Stock

From protection against the sun and rain to warding off teargas and pepper spray in the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution, the brolly has certainly earned a day of its own. 

Egyptian nobility were protected from the sun with umbrellas made of papyrus and peacock feathers while the poor literally slaved away in the scorching heat. 

However, it was the Chinese who invented the first waterproof umbrella 3 000 years ago and it has taken off like Mary Poppins since then.

Emily Blunt as Mary Poppins in the 2018 film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’. Photo: Supplied

Umbrella Revolution

In more recent history, the humble umbrella has been given iconic status as a symbol of resistance, when Hong Kong’s  2014 pro-democracy protests became known as the Umbrella Revolution. Umbrellas were in full bloom across the city, with protesters using it as a protective shield against the reactive force of riot police.

In August 2019, 1.7 million umbrella-carrying protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong to chant anti-government slogans and call for change after protests gripped the city again in June 2019, sparked by controversial legislation. 

People attend a protest held by civil servants in the Central District of Hong Kong on 2 August 2019, in the latest opposition to a planned extradition law that was quickly evolved into a wider movement for democratic reforms. Photo: Laurel Chor / AFP

According to, Hong Kong’s police force has labelled umbrellas as weapons in September 2019, and Chinese e-commerce sites, such as AliExpress no longer sell them to customers in the city. 

Art installations featuring umbrellas at occupation sites serves as a reminder of the Umbrella Revolution.

The largest of these artworks is a patchwork installation — made of fabric taken from more than a hundred broken umbrellas which had been stained by tear gas in protesters’ clash with the police on 28 September 2014 — hangs in the middle of what has become known as Umbrella Square.  

‘Death by umbrella’

Its protective purposes aside, let’s move on to some “death by umbrella” — a popular trope of spy movies. Think brollies with blades, guns, handles fitted with radio transmitters, and explosives… 

The umbrella gun, however, is not solely a figment of scriptwriters and conspiracy theorists’ imagination. 

According to, the umbrella gun was invented in the 19th century as a variant of the more popular cane gun — a “gentleman’s weapon”.

Probably one of the most infamous users of the umbrella gun — up until the 1970s, was the Penguin, the portly supervillain of the Batman comics.

The Penguin wielding one of his deadly umbrellas in ‘Batman Returns’. Photo: Supplied

In his first appearance on the big screen in 1941, the Penguin boasts an “arsenal” of rather inventive yet deadly umbrellas. Over the many reinventions of the Batman universe, the Penguin has hidden all manner of weapons in his umbrellas, including a flame-thrower and a machine gun.

Most recently, Colin Firth was equipped with a multifunctional umbrella gun in the 2015 movie Kingsman: The Secret Service — a homage to the umbrella wielded by superspy John Steed in The Avengers.

In 1978, Bulgarian dissident writer and journalist Georgi Markov was assassinated on Waterloo Bridge in London. The murder weapon was believed to have been a umbrella with a poisoned tip and consequently the murder became famous in crime history as the Umbrella Murder. 

After the Umbrella Murder, the umbrella gun enjoyed a bit of a renaissance. In 1985, a company called J Wilson built a very classy model indeed.

J Wilson’s 1985 umbrella gun.

Thinking in the rain…

According to the, The United States Patent and Trademark Office has more than 3 000 active patents on umbrella-related inventions, including a weather-forecasting umbrella; one with a rain-measuring device; a luminous umbrella; a combined pet leash and umbrella; a strap-on umbrella for the pet; an ominous-sounding “multi-component electric stunning umbrella”; and Patent No 20030155465, “a flying machine using umbrella-type devices”.

Green umbrellas

The widespread use of umbrellas also means widespread waste. Around 1.1 billion umbrellas are thrown away worldwide each year, according to Dutch ergonomic umbrella brand Senz° founder Gerwin Hoogendoorn.

Green Home has tried to alleviate the “umbrella guilt”. The manufacturer’s umbrellas are made from recycled materials, including recycled plastic that is heated and crushed to produce fabric fibres. The handle is 65% shredded wood. When the umbrella is past its prime, just bury it in the soil, and Green Home says it will begin to decompose within three weeks. 

Wonder why Swedish youth climate activist Greta Thunberg is not wielding one of these eco-friendly brollies in the picture below…

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, takes part in the Fridays For Future movement on a global day of student protests aiming to spark world leaders into action on climate change on 15 March 2019 in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo: Pontus Lundahl / TT NEWS AGENCY / AFP