Workers at the Polan Katz Co., 1953. Photo from The Baltimore Sun.

Made in Maryland: The First Umbrella Factory in Baltimore City

07/18/2019
By Preservation Maryland

Baltimore City has the distinction of being the location of the very first umbrella factory. The Beehler Umbrella Factory was founded in 1828 by German immigrant Francis Beehler. The company’s motto was, “Born in Baltimore, Raised Everywhere!”

By the 20th century, Baltimore had many successful umbrella factories and became the umbrella capital of the world, shipping out over 1.5 million umbrellas across the country each annually. Many companies competed against one another. One of those umbrella manufacturers was Polan, Katz & Co., which was founded in 1906 by Charles Katz, Jesse N. Polan, and William Fox. Within eight years of its founding, Polan, Katz & Co. became the largest umbrella manufacturer in the country, surpassing another Beehler Umbrella Factory and another Baltimore company, Gans Brothers.

After WWI, sales of parasols declined but, umbrella sales increased. As these sales grew, the manufacturing facilities had to grow as well. The peak of production for umbrella manufacturing in Baltimore was 1927. A city directory listed in addition to the Beehler Umbrella Factory, such makers as Baltimore Umbrella Manufacturing, Brunswick Umbrellas, Samuel Cohn, Walter J. Cornelius, Michael Daneker, Fink & Easter, Polan, Katz & Co., Abraham Nowitch, Siegel Rothschild, Gans Brothers, and Minnie Stevens.

Photo by Christopher Busta-Peck, Historic Marker Database, 2007.

As conditions and fashion changed, the Baltimore umbrella manufactures developed and patented special umbrellas. Two such special umbrellas were the “Name-On”, which allowed for easy recognition of one’s umbrella and the “Travella” umbrella, which had a removable handle so it would fit into a suitcase.

Additionally, Polan, Katz & Co. made headlines with the first vat-dyed umbrellas, which let anyone have a cheerful colorful umbrella for a rainy day. Polan, Katz & Co. were also the first company to create a 16-rib umbrella, umbrellas made of Dupont’s nylon fabric, and “Touch ‘n Go” umbrellas that opened by pressing the tip on the ground. Furthermore, Polan, Katz & Co. was the first company to develop acetate prints and use Goodyear’s “Pilofilm” for see-through umbrellas and raincoats.

After decades of growth through artistry and innovation, the umbrella business declined in part because of the affordability of automobiles. Beehler closed their factory in 1976 and Polan, Katz & Co. closed theirs in 1981.

MADE IN MARYLAND

Maryland has a proud industrial heritage including being the birthplace of game-changing mechanical inventions and hosting major milestones. In this Made in Maryland series, Preservation Maryland and the Baltimore Museum of Industry, will bring you many, “I didn’t know that was invented here!” moments. The Baltimore Museum of Industry celebrates Maryland’s industrial legacy and shows how innovation fuels ongoing progress. The author is Ross Bater, a Waxter Intern at Preservation Maryland.

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