Awnings come in a variety of shapes, frames, sizes, and fabrics. Their contemporary usage dates back to the early 19th century, but early awnings can be found as far back as the ancient Roman and Egyptian culture. Suffice it to say, awnings and the technology behind them, retractable awnings have changed considerably from their simple utilitarian assemblies in the past to the highly their highly customized state today. Here’s a closer look at the ‘then and now’ of awnings in America.
A quick glance at a business awning adorning the buildings and strip malls in your local neighborhood and you wouldn’t think much about the way an awning is assembled or manufactured. However, a closer look at the history of awnings reveals that the simple utilitarian stretched canvas assemblies that constitute early 19th century awnings have seen a huge change over the last few hundred years.
Awnings of the early 19th century were mostly static structures, which not only begged for the “curb appeal” of pedestrians taking a stroll in the local neighborhood, but also allowed for window shopping in all sorts of weather conditions. Although these simple awnings were both appealing and functional, their drawback was the fixed frame, which made “closing shop” a cumbersome task as coverings needed to be pulled from the frame and rolled by hand. Fortunately, folding-arm awnings were introduced in the late 19th century and, unlike their unmovable cousins, these awnings had vertical hinges, which crossed like scissors and created an easy way to retract the awning, depending upon the weather condition of the day.
During this era, canvas duck, due to its affordability and widespread production, was the common fabric used on commercial awnings, and continued to be so until the first half of the 20th century. But for all its benefits, ease-of-use, and utility, canvas duck was susceptible to over stretching and tearing, fading, mildew growth, and even cigarette sparks, which were also far more common than today. Thus, the materials’ drawbacks drove awning designers to search for fabric alternatives. It wasn’t until after World War II that awnings were given a vinyl, waterproof plastic coating that prevented both fading and water damage.
In the post-War years, vinyl resins, acrylic fibers, and polyester materials were used in addition to basic vinyl to ensure an awning’s increased longevity and durability. But, as even these beneficial changes were taking place, new trends were rapidly emerging, undercutting their popularity and their chance to revolutionize an industry. Instead, newer styles saw a turn toward more durable aluminum awnings, as well as a general change in the architectural fashion.
At present, awnings are available in all shapes, sizes, frames, and fabrics. Today, local streets display awnings that are fixed, quarter round, and backlit. You can get awnings with a company name and logo in any color that you desire. Many awnings can also be made from recycled materials, due to a recent upsurge in popularity, inspired as much by a sense of nostalgia for quaint downtown aesthetics as by energy savings, window awnings meaning that awnings are once again adorning our nation’s storefronts and buildings.