Signs Austin | A History of Awnings

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Awnings are not a trend, they have a long history. We know that awnings were used by Egyptian and Syrian civilizations, called woven mats they covered market stalls and homes providing much needed shade. In 50 BC, a Roman poet makes a reference to a “linen-awning, stretched, over mighty theatres”. The Roman Coliseum had large retractable (man powered) fabric awnings to provide its patrons and royalty the shelter from sun, wind and rain. Interestingly, awnings haven’t changed all that much over the centuries.

Early in the 19th century, awnings became common in the US. In areas with severe weather, the awnings were removed and the bare frames exposed. This is evident in many winter photographs. Predominantly in this era canvas duck was the fabric used in awnings, it was strong, closely woven cotton cloth. For additional embellishments, extra hang over canvas could be used to make a valance often with scalloped edges. The structures were adorned with filigree and post tops were decorated with ball, arrow or other types of finials.

Shortly after the Civil War, iron plumbing pipe was modified for awning frames increasing the availability and making awnings more cost effective. A possible second force driving awning sales post Civil War were canvas mills and sail makers who had supplied steamships and tents for the troops during the war were looking for new markets.

Commercial awnings expanded as sign companies were able to apply printed graphics to the awnings.  Many retailers have taken advantage of this prominent business signage.

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