Contemporary Western ideals of female beauty among the middle and upper classes during the nineteenth century called for a fair complexion. Unlike today’s preference for a healthy glow, whether acquired naturally or not, tanned faces were seen as a mark of the working woman who could not afford to live a leisurely life in the drawing rooms and parlours of the well-to-do. Changing fashions for smaller hats and the decline of bonnet wearing among younger women after the 1860’s led to the widespread adoption of the parasol as an accessory and means of protection from the sun. Cycling, by its very nature as an outdoor activity, exposed women to the elements, risking their delicate complexions and in 1896 Fred C. Ruffhead and Emil J. Scheer of Rochester, Monroe County, New York, came up with their idea for a bicycle parasol and support which was registered with the U.S. Patent Office as patent number US555025A.
Their invention had as its object “to provide a parasol or umbrella which can be readily attached to and detached from the bicycle-frame, which is adapted for use on various kinds of bicycles or tricycles, and which may be readily adjusted both vertically and horizontally, so as to most effectually shade the rider of the vehicle.” The parasol could also be detached and carried in the hand like any normal parasol and could be folded and strapped to the bicycle when not in use.
The parasol handle itself consisted of three telescopic sections while an array of clamps, hinges, and brackets provided the means of mounting the parasol to the frame of the bicycle and for making vertical and horizontal adjustment to offer the optimal level of shade to a rider of any height. For those unlucky enough not to possess an adjustable parasol Ruffhead and Scheer kindly offered a modification which would hold any parasol in a clamp attached to the head tube.
While solving the problem of carrying a parasol in one hand while steering with the other, the invention wasn’t exactly aerodynamic and windy conditions must have affected handling a touch negatively. Having an upright metal pole slap bang in the middle of the rider’s line of sight was probably not a great idea either.
by Mike Dash
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