Handcuffs have been used for centuries to effectively contain and control people. Because of this history of use, there are hundreds of ancient handcuff artifacts that are highly prized by collectors. There have also been some very strange handcuff designs. Today’s modern handcuffs are divided into two categories: handcuffs connected by a chain, or hinged handcuffs. Here are some of the strange, unusual, and truly bizarre facts and stories involving handcuffs.
The McKenzie Mitts were a metal sheath that covered a prisoner’s hands in a mitten like enclosure. This prevented the wearer both from picking a lock and handling a gun. Since the mitts were heavy and usable as a weapon, they were attached to a belly chain to limit the prisoner’s movement. McKenzie Mitts were patented in 1925, but only a few dozen were ever manufactured. The only problem with the cuffs was their effectiveness to the point where prisoners were helpless to do anything. Most guards absolutely refused to help a convict go to the bathroom for example. “Since railroads have strict rules about unshackling prisoners during transit, the cuff was used no further, and became the only locking device to be discontinued because it was too good.”
The “Handcuff King”, Frank Reno became famous as an escape artist who possessed and escaped from the largest collection of handcuffs in the world. When he was seventeen he saw the great Harry Houdini perform and begged the magician to teach him a few tricks. Houdini did and Reno began studying on his own with enthusiasm. He had a portion of his act dedicated to an audience member tying him up and then escaping the bonds. One night, two navy sailors and three circus workers tied him up really well, “That was a tough night,” Reno recalled, “it took me three full minutes to get loose.”
Despite there being over three hundred different models of handcuffs, the same universal key works for the majority. The swinging bar typical handcuff model has maybe twenty-four models. “A few makes of cuffs are hard to work such as the Thumb-Cuffs, Bean Giant, Irish plug 8, French torture thumb-cuff and the German Berliner.”