History of Canes

Learn About the History of the Walking Cane

There is a very long and interesting history of the walking canes and walking sticks. From the very earliest of times people across multiple civilations used walking canes not only for walking, but as an ornamental piece to accent their wardrobe and show their status in society.

How Walking Canes Began

Walking sticks started out as a necessary tool for the Shepherd and traveler. A nice hefty stick was an excellent way to protect against thieves and to keep animals in line. Over time, the walking stick gradually began to be known as a symbol for power and strength, and eventually authority and social prestige.

Walking Canes as a Status Symbol in Earlier Times

Rulers of many cultures, past and present, have carried some form of walking stick or staff. Egyptian rulers were believed to have carried staffs varying from three to six feet in length. These were often topped by an ornamental knob in the shape of a lotus, a symbol of long life. Ancient Greek gods were often depicted with a staff in hand.

Walking Canes Vs. Walking Sticks and Staffs

The distinction between sticks and canes is based on the materials used; sticks were made of ivory, whalebone, ebony and other valuable woods. Canes were made from Malacca or rattan, bamboo and other hardy reeds. Quality canes spoke volumes about a person's wealth and social status.

The Middle Ages and Medieval Times

By the Middle Ages, (in what is now Europe), a scepter carried in the right hand was a symbol of royal power, while one in the left hand represented justice. The church also began to use staffs to denote it's higher offices. A crooked staff with a hook held by a bishop was a symbol of his role as Shaped to his congregation. The hook represented the Bishop drawing in his flock to the church. The use of the word cane for a walking stick began in the 16th century, when bamboo and other tropical grasses and reeds began to be used as shafts.

The 11th Century

In the 11th Century, in what we now call France, women carried slender sticks made of apple wood. Canes came into fashion again with Marie Antoinette, who was known for carrying a Shepherd's crook.

The 1600s

After the 1600s, canes became fashionable for men to carry as part of their daily attire. New rules of etiquette were formed during this time. To break this code of behavior was considered a violation of good manners. In 1702, the men of London were required to have a license in order to carry a walking stick or cane. Cane use was considered a privilege, and gentlemen had to abide by those rules or lose the privilege

One example of a cane license reads: You are hereby required to permit the bearer of this cane to pass and repass through the streets of London, or anyplace within ten miles of it, without theft or molestation: Provided that he does not walk with it under his arm, brandish it in the air, or hang it on a button, in which case it shall be forfeited, and I hereby declare it forfeited to anyone who shall think it safe to take it from him. Signed________. (Source: Lester and Oerke Accessories of Dress, Peoria, IL. The Manual Arts Press.)

In the late 17th Century oak sticks were carried, especially by the Puritans. The fashion (for men) continued into the 18th Century. From time to time, women also carried walking sticks or canes as a fashion accessory.

In the United States, presidents have often carried canes and received them as gifts. The Smithsonian has a cane given to George Washington by Ben Franklin. It features a gold handle in the shape of a French liberty cap. In our time, walking sticks are usually only seen with formal attire. Collectors of canes look for the old, the new and the novel.

History of Sword Canes and Gadget Canes

Canes with hidden features such as hidden compartments, pool sticks, and sword canes are popular among collectors. Handles have been made from many substances, both natural and man-made. Carved and decorated canes have turned the functional into the fantastic.

History of the Blind Cane or Shooter Cane

The White cane is tool for independence and a symbol of our sight impaired citizens. The origin of the white cane has it's beginning in the time between the two World Wars. James Biggs of Bristol claims to have invented it in 1921. After losing his sight and feeling threatened by traffic near his home, he painted his walking stick white to be more visible to motorists. Ten years later, in February 1931, Guilly d'Herbemont began a national white stick movement for the sight impaired in France. In May of the same year the British Broadcasting Company suggested that white sticks should be given out to the sight impaired, and that the white stick or cane should become a universal symbol to indicate that a person was blind or visually impaired. In North America, the Lion's club sponsored a similar movement.

After World War II, a dramatic change was made in the way white canes were used. Doctor Richard Hoover developed the "long cane" method of cane travel as a means to help blinded veterans return to a more functional lifestyle. The white cane began to find its mark in government policy at this time. Peoria passed the first special White Cane Ordinance in December 1930, granting visually impaired pedestrians special protections and right-of-way while carrying the white cane.

In 1964 Congress passed a law that allowed the president to declare a National White Cane Safety Day to promote awareness and use of the white cane. Lyndon B Johnson became the first president to declare October 15th as White Cane Safety Day. Since then, most presidents have continued to recognize this day as a day to remember that the main barrier that the disabled face in our society is that of discrimination. The White Cane is not only a tool, but also a staff that recognizes independence.