Underside of folding umbrella showing levers and handle

Umbrella – a canopy designed to protect against rain or sunlight. May be fixed to one point and often used with patio tables or other outdoor furniture, or hand-held portable devices. The collapsible (or folding) umbrella originated from China, and had sliding levers similar to those in use today.

The word umbrella comes from the Latin word umbra, meaning shade or shadow.

Collapsible (or folding) umbrella with sliding levers

  • A late Song Dynasty Chinese divination book that was printed in about 1270 AD features a picture of a collapsible umbrella that is exactly like the modern umbrella of today’s China.
  • In 1928, Hans Haupt’s pocket umbrellas appeared.
  • In 1969, Bradford E Phillips, the owner of Totes Incorporated of Loveland, Ohio obtained a patent for the first “working folding umbrella”.

Building better umbrellas

  • In the US, so many umbrella-related patents are being filed that the U.S. Patent Office employs four full-time examiners to assess them. As of 2008, the office registered three thousand active patents on umbrella-related inventions
  • In 2005 Gerwin Hoogendoorn, a Dutch industrial design student of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, invented an aerodynamically streamlined storm umbrella (with a similar shape as a stealth plane) which can withstand wind force 10 (winds of up to 100 km/h or 70 mp/h) and won’t turn inside-out like a regular umbrella

What’s the problem?
Having an umbrella on a rainy day is useful, but carrying a full size umbrella when not in use can be awkward.

  • Ask – How small does a folded umbrella need to be to be practical and more convenient? How big does it have to expand to?
  • Imagine – What are some examples of folding and hinged ribs? How to they bend? How are they held in place when extended?
  • Design, Build – When extended, each rib snaps into a clamp which holds it perfectly rigid
  • Improve – What changes could be made to the basic structure to prevent damage in high wind?

Do It
Challenges for you to work on…

  • Make a Paper Umbrella using posters and office supplies. These umbrellas open and close. You will need paper, scissors, wooden sticks, glue, duct tape, manilla folders (pompoms – optional).

Learn more…