A History of Traditional Awnings for Shops

August 19, 2021

Awnings have been a common feature on storefronts for generations. While the technologies and materials used might have changed over the years (along with the styles), awnings themselves remain immensely popular today as marketing forms, as a way to increase curb appeal and as a means of providing shade to passersby.

Awnings became popular as a way to block out the sun while still allowing daylight and air to enter into storefronts that needed ventilation, especially before the days of central air conditioning. On rainy days, awnings made it possible for passersby to still enjoy window shopping excursions.

Here’s a quick look at how awnings have been used over the years and how the history of traditional awnings has evolved in that time.


Awnings started showing up on storefronts in the early 19th century, and at first were primarily utilitarian, without a whole lot of artistic flair. They usually had timber or cast iron posts at the edge of the sidewalk, with a cross bar in front to provide support and form. The canvas would be connected to the building’s façade at the top with nails or hooks, or by lacing it onto a head rod attached to the façade. The other end of the canvas was draped over or attached to a front bar, with the edge hanging down to create a sort of valance appearance.

Awnings gradually increased in popularity throughout the century, especially after the Civil War, as iron plumbing pipe (which would soon be used for awning frames) became more widely available and less expensive.

Later in the century, manufacturers developed operational systems that could roll out and retract. Shop owners would arrive, roll out their awnings to indicate they were open and close them at the end of the day. If storms would suddenly roll through on any given day, the shop owner could easily roll up the awning to prevent it from getting damaged.


The primary innovations in awnings in the early part of the 20th century were in improving the operability of the equipment. There were more varieties of awnings with different functionality, which meant more possibilities for accommodating a wider range of storefronts.

Folding-arm awnings started to appear in the late 19th century, and really burst onto the scene in the 20th century. Vertical folding arms would be made of small hinged arms that crisscrossed like scissors. When extended outward, they would pull the covering off the roller.

Lateral arm awnings were horizontally operating awnings that functioned in a way similar to an elbow. The spring action in the arms of the awning would push out toward the street, rolling out the cover while maintaining tension.

As the century progressed, new types of coverings also started to be developed. After World War II, plastic vinyl coatings started to be applied to canvas to prevent fade and water damage. In the 1960s, vinyl, acrylic and polyester all started to become common.

Today, you can find awnings in a wide range of shapes, sizes, fabrics and functionalities. Changes with traditional shop awnings have led to a booming awning industry and options for all different types of businesses.

For more information about the available awning options on the market today, contact the team at ABC Awning Company.

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