HANDCUFFS By : Liese Sherwood-Fabre
In every law enforcement movie , TV show , or book , at some point , a police officer pulls out his handcuffs when arresting a suspect . These “ bracelets ” have not evolved greatly from a design introduced more than one hundred years ago and remain standard practice today .
Restraining prisoners , criminals , slaves , or others to deter their ability to flee or injure people most likely dates back to prehistoric times . Bindings made of hides or other materials were probably the first such bonds . Once metalwork developed , hand and foot shackles were designed . ( 1 ) These were most likely created even prior to coins , appearing in the Bronze Age and requiring a rivet to secure them . ( 2 )
The Greeks and others used shackles to control prisoners of war . The design involved a u-shaped piece of metal around the wrists and closed by a bar that could either be stamped shut as a more permanent device or locked to restrain someone temporarily . This “ one size fits all ” device created a major drawback . Prisoners with small enough hands or wrists could slip them off and escape . ( 3 )
In the early 1800s , the most common handcuffs used in Britain were the “ Bango ,” which resembled a double oxen yoke for the hands and did not permit any movement , and the “ Flexible ” ( or Darby ) with a link between the cuffs on each hand allowed some movement , such as eating . Both of these were still “ one size fits all ” and required some effort to place on the prisoner . ( 4 )
The introduction of ratchets , patented by W . V . Adams in 1862 , on a cuff with a “ swing gate ” created the first adjustable bindings to fit large and small wrists . ( 5 ) Such restraints , however , could be shimmied by sliding a piece of metal between the two sides of the cuff . This and other drawbacks were addressed in 1912 by George Carney . The device he patented resembled those used today : a lightweight , swing-thru gate design that could be secured without a key . Easily slapped onto a person ’ s wrist , a policeman only needed one hand to quickly restrain a criminal . ( 7 )
During the late Victorian era , women actually wore gold bracelets that resembled handcuffs to indicate they were engaged . These were often presented by a gentleman to a young woman in place of a ring to indicate the woman was now “ bound ” to her future husband . ( 8 ) Whether criminal or future bride , either might be told they “ had a fine pair of bracelets .”
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