patio umbrella over a table

As you wind down the summer relaxing under the shade of your newly purchased patio umbrella from Christy Sports, or perhaps browsing through one of our stores looking for that perfect canopy for next summer . . . have you have wondered how this curious shade invention came to be?

Today’s outdoor patio umbrella has a long, noble history. From early man to the royal courts of China and Egypt from 1100 – 1200 BC, to the Roman popes of the Middle Ages, to the crown of England in the 1700s, to finally hitting the streets of America in 1885. The umbrella has provided shade and protection from the elements to mankind through the centuries.

Umbrellas as Early Canopies

Umbrella comes from the Latin word “umbra,” meaning shadow.  It’s been guessed that umbrellas were first inspired by trees – likely either banana or palm trees. As man developed agriculture and hunted for food, they would sit under the canopy of a tree to cool off and keep comfortable during hot and/or raining weather.

While historians are unsure as to when and where the umbrella first originated, this early “sun shade” dates back to the courts of China and Egypt. In Greece and Rome, oiled cloth canopies were used as a weatherproof seal to increase protection from the sun and rain.

Evidence of outdoor umbrellas – what we, today, call patio umbrellas – is also seen in the ancient art of Egypt, Greece, and China. Sculptures depicting the use of outdoor umbrellas have been found in such ancient cities as Nineveh, Persopolis, and Thebes, Egypt.

From Parasol To Patio Umbrella

The first hand umbrellas or “parasols” were mostly used by royalty. In Egypt, it was a sign of nobility to have fair skin, so the protection afforded by sun umbrellas ensured their skin would not tan.

In ancient China and Asia, the umbrella was a status symbol – not for its size, but rather for its tiers. Records indicate the Emperor of China’s parasol had four tiers. The King of Siam had an umbrella with nine tiers, each sporting elaborate tassels. He was once described as “the Lord of the twenty four parasols.”

Widespread use of the umbrella by women first originated with the Greeks. An umbrella was carried over a statue symbolizing Dionysus (Greek god of wine, winemaking, grape cultivation, and fertility) at festivals. This symbolism was later used with other deities, such as Pallas Athena, when Athenian women would hold umbrellas over the gods at feasts in her honor. Eventually, this dainty parasol would forever be associated as a woman’s fashion accessory.

During the Middle Ages, the Pope used a parasol umbrella as ceremonial regalia, rumored it originated from a brown and white umbrella given by Constantine the Great. A striped canopy is depicted in the papal colors, red and gold above the cross keys of St. Peter. Still used today, it is known as an “ombrellino.”

This papal influence from the church soon spread the concept of umbrellas and shade structures across Europe. The trend began in Italy and traces back to 12th Century Pope Alexander the III when he granted the right to have a parasol carried over the Doge of Venice.

From there, the famous English weather ensured the outdoor umbrella’s success. Between 1685 and 1705 the market umbrella became popular at coffee houses to shelter customers sipping coffee on the outdoor patios. The first umbrella shop in England, James Smith and Sons, opened in 1830. Located in London, the shop is still open today.

The first steel ribbed umbrella was invented by Samuel Fox in 1852 as a way of using up stocks of Farthingale steel stays used in women’s corsets and underskirts. He later founded Fox Umbrellas near Sheffield, England. Soon after, in the U.S., African-American inventor William C. Carter patented an umbrella stand in 1885. Together, with the stand and steel ribbed umbrella, some say this may have been when the modern patio umbrella was born.

Modern Day Umbrellas & Christy Sports

Technological advancement of the 20th century and today have enabled the creation of mechanisms that are now an integral part of modern umbrellas. Currently, there is a vast array of different types of umbrellas on the market – from the classic, automatic, bubble, storm, and compact hand umbrellas to rectangular, oblong, and cantilever outdoor patio umbrellas. The latter of which Christy Sports specializes in.


Outdoor umbrellas are the perfect addition to any patio area. Making sure you enjoy your outdoor space in shaded comfort, Christy Sports offers umbrellas in various heights, tilting options, and shapes and sizes. We carry patio umbrellas ranging from 7.5’ to 11’, octagonal and rectangular umbrellas, cantilever style, as well as umbrellas that tilt at just the right angle to keep the sun out of your eyes.

  • The Basics

Our 7.5’, 9’, and 11’ umbrellas all provide ample shade and can be found in a variety of eye catching colors and patterns. The smaller 7.5’ umbrella has a push-button tilt feature which allows you to change the angle of your umbrella while the 9 footer has either a crank tilt, a push-button tilt, or a twist tilt feature that allows you to change the angle of your umbrella for optimal shade throughout the day. If you need to shade a large outdoor area, the 11’ octagonal umbrella might be perfect for you. While it may appear cumbersome, this versatile canopy offers a variety of tilt mechanisms to choose from, and is as easy to put up as it is to take down and store away.

  • Something Different

Looking to step away from the traditional patio umbrella shape? Check out Christy Sports’ rectangular and cantilever styles. Our 8’x11’ rectangular umbrellas have a crank lift feature and provide shade for large areas. These are ideal for rectangular dining sets.

Cantilever umbrellas provide the most customizable shade options because they are easy to use and include a simple crank lift, a rotating base, and a tilt arm that allows for up to a 45 degree tilt in either direction. Available in 10 ’, 11’, or 13’ canopy sizes, these cantilever umbrellas offer maximum coverage for large outdoor spaces, and come in a variety of pleasing colors.

  • Don’t Forget The Bases

Christy Sports carries a variety of umbrella bases in different colors and styles. These heavy duty bases help keep your umbrella and outdoor dining table in place. From art deco to classic styling, to pentagonal and square shapes, we have a great selection of bases to make sure your new umbrella is stylish, functional, and secured.

The history of the umbrella has encompassed three thousand plus years of human civilization, expansion, and innovation – from shade trees of early man into your modern day, contemporary outdoor lifestyle. No matter what your patio space, style, or functionality is, Christy Sports is sure to carry the perfect outdoor umbrella to suit your impeccable taste.