Early European designs for the umbrella sought to capture and incarcerate the offending raindrops rather than simply shedding them off. Without some application of punishment or reform, the reasoning went, the drops would simply evaporate and regather into clouds only to repeat the crime again and again. This was termed recidivism. The unit, made of iron and tar-sealed rattan weave, weighed 15 pounds when empty, over 160 pounds when full.

An innovation to the design by American colonists featured support trusses for the device and drain tubes which emptied the collection reservoir into buckets slung down on either side of the bearer, hanging from a yoke. This moved the center of gravity lower making support of the load more manageable, and movement of the bearer less strenuous. The trusses, mounted to the yoke, supported the load and freed up the hands so that one could wave to one’s neighbors as he lumbered down the boulevard in the rain.

In Europe and Great Britain, the aristocracy shifted the burden of this chore to the service class, while they themselves dawned rain cloaks when the need arose, or simply stayed indoors.

Before long, a reform movement was born, led by an American statesman’s wife who stressed the injustice of incarceration without due process. Resistance to this idea among the powerful on both sides of the Atlantic was strong due to the suspicion that the concept might be applied to the slave population, which at the time was the chief driver of commerce.

“The raindrops are innocent!”[1] was the cry of the protesters, who mocked the bumbershoot’s design by upturning the reservoir and thereby emptying the prison. The first time it rained during a rally it was immediately noticed that the upside-down collection basket kept one quite dry, though the device was still cumbersome due to its weight. Before long, a clever merchant named Sam Walton began importing bamboo parasols from the Chinese, who had got the idea right to begin with thousands of years prior.

Soon, market pressures prevailed and the reform movement declared victory. Everyone sported the newfangled parasols during April downpours, and looked damn smart doing it too. The once ubiquitous rain jail contraptions, born of the desire to punish the innocent, were soon scrapped, the iron used to forge muskets and swords, in case any new reform movement dared to show itself again on the streets of this great and free land.

Notes: 1. This slogan is considered the origin of the phrase, “innocent as a dewdrop.”