The Public Shaming of England’s First Umbrella User
This pioneer of weather management was pelted with insults and trash.
Hanway was the first man to parade an umbrella unashamed in 18th-century England, a time and place in which umbrellas were strictly taboo. In the minds of many Brits, umbrella usage was symptomatic of a weakness of character, particularly among men. Few people ever dared to be seen with such a detestable, effeminate contraption. To carry an umbrella when it rained was to incur public ridicule. […]
Jonas Hanway, always stubborn, paid little attention to the social stigma. An eccentric man, he was no stranger to controversy—he fervently opposed the introduction of tea into England, at one point penning an “Essay Upon Tea and Its Pernicious Consequences” (1756). He published four books on the development of British trade in the Caspian Sea, leading 20th-century scholar Charles Wilson to call him “one of the most indefatigable and splendid bores of English history.”
Over the years, Hanway and his umbrella fell victim to all sorts of abuse from Brits he passed on the sidewalk. The most pernicious abuse came from an unlikely source: coach drivers. In England at the time, hansom cabs (two-wheeled, horse-drawn carriages) and sedan chairs were the primary modes of transportation. Business boomed especially on rainy days, as both hansom cabs and sedan chairs came equipped with small canopies that kept passengers dry. When it rained, Londoners flocked to these coaches, so Hanway’s umbrella represented a threat to business.