Nearly 40% of people in the United States over age 85 use a mobility device of some kind, and just over 10% of people 65 or over are using a canes for stability. Canes come in every style these days, from classy canes with brass cane handles, to bariatric canes and the carbon fiber folding cane. A lot of us use them already, and many of us will use them at some point in our lives. They’re a fairly ordinary bit of life: but they have as interesting a history as anything else you can name.
- The first canes were for travelers and shepherds. They weren’t neatly carved like a fancy walking cane, and they weren’t stable like modern bariatric canes, but these simple hefty sticks were not only a great aid to walking long distances, but they also came in handy for beating off thieves, corraling wayward livestock, and defending from wild animals.
- Unsurprisingly, the ruling class started using them to symbolize their power. These canes soon became seen as synonymous with strength, and many rulers carried some kind of staff to showcase their authority. The actual staff gradually morphed into the scepter of the Middle Ages, and even the Roman Catholic Church got into the act, giving bishops and archbishops ornamental crooked canes to represent the idea of shepherding their flock, spiritually. The scepter and the bishops’ staff were much shorter than today’s bariatric canes, but they all have essentially the same original origin.
- After a while, canes became a fashion symbol. This began around the early 1700s. A walking stick or cane became an important fashion statement for English gentlemen; so much so that a man had to have a license to carry one, proving he was really an etiquette-following gentleman deserving of such high honor as to have a cane. The licenses did typically specify that men were not permitted to brandish them about in the air.
- Canes were also used among the fairer sex. In the Middle Ages, it was French women who carried walking sticks, usually made of apple wood. That fashion died out until Marie Antoinette, who briefly brought it back before losing her head. After that, women didn’t use the cane much until the late 18th century, when it again became fashionable to carry one.
- We’ve always put interesting things in our canes. You won’t find a bariatric cane with a hidden compartment, but many older wooden canes were made with swords or hiding places. They were used to conceal everything from cigars to brandy, and even today you can buy “survival” walking sticks that have hidden compartments for storing gear.
- The cane as an important medical assistance device didn’t come about until the early 1900s. The fashion statement of the cane was so great that it took quite a while for us to appreciate their real value for stabilizing those at risk for a fall. Once canes became associated with medicine, people stopped making decorative and stylish canes, and the canes were clunky and utilitarian. Thankfully, we now know that canes can be both useful and gorgeous, so there’s been a revolution in cool walking canes, quality bariatric canes, and even custom walking canes.
Now you know! The cane has come a long way since those early days. If you need one, or even if you just want one, there’s definitely a cane for you. Find one that reflects your style, and make a statement whenever you use it.