A walking stick is probably the most basic of mobility aids. What could be simpler than a sturdy piece of wood or metal that we can use to take some weight and help us get around if we need it?
Walking sticks have probably existed in one form or another since man took his first upright steps. Well, probably a little after that, when man found a branch of a tree lying on the ground and used it for a little help in climbing up a steep hill. Probably wouldn't have been long after that that he found it made a handy weapon should he be attacked by any wild animals. But walking sticks as we imagine them – elegant canes, lavishly decorated with carved ivory handles for use around town to the more sturdy, though none less elaborate walking sticks for hikers really trace their roots back to ancient Egypt when the walking stick was gained popularity. Back then, you could tell a lot by a person's walking stick – what profession they were in for example; because the Pharaoh's walking stick would be very different than the Shepard's or the business man's (not that you would ever mistake the Pharaoh...). Walking sticks form followed their function – the Shepard's stick with it's crook useful for herding being a prime example. Walking sticks were so important in Egypt that many people were actually buried with their canes.
As time marched on, so did walking sticks. In the middle ages, designs began cropping up that allowed one to hide money or other valuables in their walking stick. Thus making them the equivalent of today's backpacker's money belt. Of course, with the influence of the Church, walking sticks became adorned with religious decoration. Kings embellished their canes with priceless jewels to show their power.
Probably the heyday of the walking stick came in the early 1900s. Post industrial revolution, mass production was possible and every man could afford to carry a walking stick. Of course, class hierarchies were still firmly displayed in the walking stick's materials and decoration, with more exotic materials such as ivory and silver being used. Carved handles also became popular.
Certainly today, it is unusual to see someone sporting a cane or walking stick if they are not actually out hiking. The use of the walking stick as a fashion accessory has mostly died out and it is more likely that if a stick is being used, it is as a mobility aid. Rather a pity really, because they do add a touch of elegance to an occasion.