Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tramp chair

The tramp chair was a one-person retaining device used by American police, largely during the 19th century, as a mild form of torture and public humiliation.

Invented in the early 19th century, the tramp chair was a cage made of bent and riveted metal strapping into the shape of a chair. An individual could be placed inside the chair and locked up securely (thus also acting as a jail cell in towns too small to build a jail). It was sometimes placed on a wheeled platform so that it (and the prisoner) could be moved around easily.

It was often used for vagrants (earning it its name) who could be left inside it for a day or two as encouragement to move along. Made of iron, it would heat up or cool down uncomfortably depending on the weather, and town residents could jeer at and harass the occupant. It left no room to move around, so would be very uncomfortable to sit in for a prolonged stretch of time. The American Police Hall of Fame and Police Museum in Miami states that "often the prisoner was stripped naked and the kids from the area would poke him with sticks."

The tramp chair was invented and made by Sanford Baker of Oakland, Maine. An original chair is in the Smithsonian and in the Bangor (Maine) Police Museum.

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