What Kind of Handcuffs Were Used in the 1800s?

From the earliest civilisations to modern day, handcuffs have been used to restrain the hands of human beings. Early civilisations used handcuffs to tie slaves. With the development of police forces, the modern handcuff is used to restrain suspects.

The earliest known handcuffs were made in 1790 in the United Kingdom and many innovations of the handcuff were created in the U.S. and the U.K. in the 1800s.

The Derby Handcuff

The Derby handcuff developed in the U.K. in the 1800s had a horseshoe shape and a locking system contained in a barrel. The barrel had a screwing mechanism for shutting and opening. The earliest known English police force established by Sir Robert Peel in 1829 used the Derby handcuff in different sizes.


The Adams handcuff invented in 1862 by W.V. Adams in the U.S. improved the existing Derby handcuff because it had an adjustable fitting mechanism to fit all sizes of wrists. The design consisted of notches and a square bow to enable adjustment of locks to fit all wrist sizes. A similar handcuff invented by Orson Phelps put the notches in the inner surface of the handcuff.

John Tower

The John Tower Co. developed a patented design for handcuffs in 1874. The handcuffs produced by the company had a round design combining the Adams and Phelps handcuff design with notches on the inside of the handcuff. A three link chain joined the ends of the handcuffs. The company later developed handcuffs with the keyhole at the bottom and used three rings rather than chains to fasten the cuff. The company also developed and got the patent for double-lock handcuffs.

Peerless Handcuffs

Peerless handcuffs invented by U.S. resident E.D. Bean had the distinction of having a release button. The release button gave arresting officers the option of setting the locking mechanism at a specific time. The handcuffs had a swing-through ratchet system and cuffs could not lock until they were set on wrists.