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Electric Glove Helps Police Quell Rioters

• August 29, 2012 • 4:00 AM

The taser has proved a popular modern way to subdue a suspect, but in 1930s New York the men in blue were a little more shockingly hands-on in their approach.

Electric glove in the Sept 1935 issue of Popular Science

With protests ramping up this week at the Republican National Convention, Tampa police have been out on city streets in full riot gear. Police outnumber protesters in Tampa 4 to 1 but thankfully there hasn’t been any threat of violence (yet). Should things get hairy, the modern American police officer has many a weapon at his disposal to subdue protesters, perhaps none more controversial than the taser.

Electroshock weapons have become more and more popular in the past decade in police departments across the country. Proponents of electroshock weapons claim that tasers actually save lives by giving police a non-lethal option to subdue citizens. Detractors claim tasers are used excessively and are more lethal than their manufacturers claim.

But the idea of subduing protesters with electricity is far from new. During the politically turbulent 1930s, the New York City police force toyed with the idea of an electroshock glove. According to the June 23, 1935 New York Times, the device was demonstrated for the press on people who had no idea what was coming.

The September 1935 issue of Popular Science Monthly included a photo (right) of what the device looked like when worn. From Popular Science:

An electric glove, recently demonstrated before New York police officials as substitute for the traditional “billy,” is declared by its inventor to provide a humane and effective means of subduing rioters. A touch with the glove is enough to take all the fight out of the most recalcitrant disturber, since it imparts an electric shock with a kick of 1,500 to 5,000 volts behind it. The paralyzing effect, however, is only temporary, and there are no burns or other after-effects. A small battery carried on the hip, a spark coil to produce the high voltage, and the glove itself, which is insulated from the wearer’s hand, comprise the police officer’s equipment. A thumb switch regulates the charge so that the top voltages are applied only in stubborn cases.

I haven’t found any evidence that this electric glove was ever used in the field, but today’s 50,000 volt police tasers surely make this 1930s electric glove look like a child’s toy.

Matt Novak
Matt Novak writes about past visions of the future for BBC.com and Smithsonian.com.

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