HISTORY OF AWNINGS
Awnings were first used by the ancient Egyptian and Syrian civilizations. They are described as "woven mats" that shaded market stalls and homes. A Roman poet Lucretius, in 50 BC, said "Linen-awning, stretched, over mighty theatres, gives forth at times, a cracking roar, when much ’tis beaten about, betwixt the poles and cross-beams."
Awnings became common during the first half of the 19th century. At that time they consisted of timber or cast iron posts set along the sidewalk edge and linked by a front cross bar. To lend support to larger installations, angled rafters linked the front cross bar to the building facade. The upper end of the canvas was connected to the facade with nails, with grommets and hooks, or by lacing the canvas to a head rod bolted to the facade. The other (projecting) end of the canvas was draped over, or laced to, a front bar with the edge often hanging down to form a valance. On ornate examples, metal posts were adorned with filigree and the tops decorated with spear ends, balls or other embellishments. On overcast days or when rain did not threaten, the covering was often rolled up against the building facade; during the winter months proper maintenance called for the removal and storage of awnings. Photographs from the mid-19th century often show the bare framework, suggesting that the covering was extended only when necessary. Canvas duck was the predominant awning fabric, a strong, closely woven cotton cloth used for centuries to make tents and sails.
Awnings became a common feature in the years after the Civil War. Iron plumbing pipe, which was quickly adapted for awning frames, became widely available and affordable as a result of mid-century industrialization. It was a natural material for awning frames, easily bent and threaded together to make a range of different shapes and sizes. At the same time the advent of the steamship forced canvas mills and sail makers to search for new markets. An awning industry developed offering an array of frame and fabric options adaptable to both storefronts and windows.
In 1933, a man in New York survived after his 7-story fall was slowed by several window awnings. Wow!