The shortest history of handcuffs: how people fettered each other

Since the person met another person, he had a need to limit his mobility. Ropes and leather harnesses require skill, easily cut and rubbed. Therefore, from ancient times people used wooden pads – hand, foot, neck. With the development of metallurgy there were also all-metal shackles. However, they remained far from perfect. Under different sizes, we had to make bracelets of different diameters, and to put them on or remove them, we needed a blacksmith with a tool …

The shortest history of handcuffs: how people fettered each other

Size and its meaning

The date is known from which the history of handcuffs begins. This is 1780, when the British firm Hiatt & Co has released compact shackles of the Darby model, equipped with a simple snap-lock.

The shortest history of handcuffs: how people fettered each otherHiatt Darby (1780)

The outer part of the bracelets was made in the form of a tube, in the lateral opening of which entered a movable arc, locked with a spring-loaded tongue.

To “break” the offender, the blacksmith was no longer needed. To do this, a key with an internal thread was inserted into the tube from the underside and screwed onto the shank, pulling back on the latch spring. The diameters of Darby were standardized, but it was impossible to manage less than three standard sizes in any way. Policemen had to have separately “male”, separately “female” and separately “children’s” bracelets – and try not to be mistaken with the size. Really universal handcuffs became already in the XIX century. In 1862, an American William Adams patented a design with an adjustable diameter: now the movable arch got the teeth and passed through the through window, seizing the lock. Four years later, Orson Phelps improved the lock and moved the teeth to the inside of the bow, making the design more compact.

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The production of handcuffs under the patents of Adams and Phelps was established by John Tower, soon supplementing them with small but important innovations: the arches became rounded, and the hole for the key moved to the edge. This made it easier for the police to lock the castle and complicated the “autopsy” by the criminal. There was a retainer that did not allow bracelets to spontaneously tighten, blocking the blood supply to the hands.

End of story

To immobilize the perpetrator with Tower handcuffs in real operational conditions was a dangerous task. Before throwing them on the wrist, it was required to unlock the lock with a key, which was not always enough time – and hands – or to wear in advance open. But there was only one step to the ideal, and the engineer of American company Peerless George Kerni made it.

The shortest history of handcuffs: how people fettered each other

Smith & Wesson 100 (1970)

The bracelet here is a double half-arc, in the lumen of which the movable half rotates, on the outside is provided with teeth. The lock is on the inside: a spring-loaded ratchet with teeth is retracted by turning the key.

In 1912, the first model appeared on the market with a through stroke of the movable arc of the bracelet. Without encountering obstacles, it freely rotates in one direction. Back it does not let a simple ratchet mechanism. Now the handcuffs were always ready for use. By blowing the movable arch over the wrist of the criminal, it starts up in rotation and makes a full turn, snapping firmly. It only remains to tighten.

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Peerless 1912 spawned a series of imitations and provided the firm with a long dominance in the market. Only in 1970 she was replaced by Smith & Wesson with their extremely successful models of 90 and 100. Given countless clones, they were the most common in the world – a real “Kalashnikov” among handcuffs.

One-time world

In 1992, after the jury acquitted the police officers who beat black Rodney King for aggressive behavior, tens of thousands of African Americans took to the streets of Los Angeles. The riot was a serious test for the local police. Metal handcuffs simply did not suffice. In the case went ropes, wires … and disposable plastic cable ties.

The find turned out to be successful, and today hundreds of types of disposable plastic handcuffs are being manufactured. Unlike cable ties, which can be broken off by sharp and strong movement, they are extremely reliable.

The shortest history of handcuffs: how people fettered each otherPeerless (1912)

An important detail of the Peerless handcuffs is a round protrusion on the head of the key. It allows you to drown the protective pin on the edge of the lock, block the movement of the ratchet and prevent spontaneous tightening on the arm.

They are made from vulcanized santoprene (TPV) or reinforced nylon 66. According to the standards of the American certificate Mil-S-23190E, their tensile strength is not less than 150 kg. Even with scissors they can not be taken, for this you need cutters-side cutters. It remains only to patiently saw the plastic with a suitable abrasive – they say, sometimes it is possible to make laces.

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It seems, this is the story of the handcuffs. However, life continues, and while a person meets another person, he will have a need to limit his mobility in an increasingly reliable way.


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