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.
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".
The configuration of this structure is something of a truss, space frame or planar frame. Awnings are also often constructed of aluminium understucture with aluminium sheeting. These aluminium awnings are often used when a fabric awning is not a practical application where snow load as well as wind loads may be a factor.
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.
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