The umbrella was invented by the 16th century Italian architect, Giacomo Umbrelli, to protect the workers building the Trevi Fountain, and in its original form, consisted of a large sheet of lasagne stuck on a pole.
The folding umbrella was developed in the 19th century by Alexandra Gracie Bell, the married daughter of Thomas Edison, although the first patent was actually granted to Thadeus Bumbershoot of Chicago in 1843.
The umbrella is the most common item held by lost property offices in the UK (well ahead of luggage, portable stoves and whippets) and in 2007, the entire stock of some 4 million was used as ballast in the initial construction stages of London’s Crossrail project.
As well as their normal function, umbrellas can also be used for a variety of other purposes – including mixing cement, collecting beech mast and truffles, transporting chickens across rivers and decorating very large cocktails.
When folded, umbrellas are usually stored in ornamental stands, such as those made from tree trunks, elephants’ feet and decommissioned ships’ funnels, and some of the more decorative of these are now eagerly sought after by the sort of people who’ve also been to see The Sound of Music several hundred times.