National Handcuff Day
annually on February 20th (since 2010)
On this day in 1912, a patent was granted to George A. Carney, for a swinging arm type of adjustable, ratcheting handcuff. Carney's handcuffs were light, instead of the heavy and bulky handcuffs that had been the norm, and they were standardized in size, unlike their predecessors. Since their invention, Carney's swing-through design handcuffs have been the template of handcuffs that have followed. In honor of Carney's patent, National Handcuff Day was started in 2010, in part by Handcuff Warehouse and the Peerless Handcuff Company.
Handcuffs are used by many types of law enforcement officers and are used in prisons and jails. They are worn on the wrists of prisoners to stop them from escaping, and from maneuvering in other ways or harming those around them. Handcuffs are also used by escape artists. Escape artists and others may break free from handcuffs by picking, shimming, or snapping them. Some people also collect handcuffs.
Handcuffs began being developed before there was a criminal justice system. The first hand restraints were made from animal hides and vines. During the Greco-Punic Wars between the Greeks and Carthaginians, which began in 600 BCE, chains and iron bindings were used as restraints. These were more like shackles instead of handcuffs and were only one size. Descriptions of restraints that more closely resemble handcuffs appear in the writings of Virgil, dating to 70 BCE. The handcuffs described could be tightened and loosened to fit the size of the person, and were easy to put on and transport. They were not mass produced though, as the technology to so was not yet available. By 500 CE in Europe, shackles had a hinged design that could better close around the wrist.
During the nineteenth century in Europe, handcuffs were equipped with hinges, standardized keys, and a ratcheting mechanism for adjustability. This was not perfect, as some prisoners were still too large or too small, and the keys were screw keys that took a long time to tighten. In America in 1862, W.V. Adams filed a patent for the first adjustable ratchet handcuff. It improved on the English handcuffs—making them lighter and smaller, and easier to ratchet and lock.
George Carney's design, known as the "swing cuff design," had a single and double strand. The handcuffs would not lock unless something would stop them from swinging through to the other side. Carney's patent was purchased by the Peerless Handcuff Company, which came up with "double lock cuffs," that prevented the ratchet mechanism from loosening and tightening. Peerless also introduced the barrel-style key that became the standard. The only other real changes since Carney's patent have been the types of metals used, making it fitting that National Handcuff Day would take place on the anniversary of his patent.