Model of Barbed Wire Fence

Image of patent model for barb fence.
Where barbed wire was born

On May 13, 1873, farmer Henry M. Rose of Waterman was awarded a patent for a fence designed to keep livestock at bay. It consisted of sharp spikes protruding from a thin wooden rail. Rose displayed this patent model for his fence at the DeKalb County Fair that fall, where it caught the eye of three men. Rose’s patent inspired Joseph Glidden, Isaac Ellwood, and Jacob Haish to each try their hand at inventing barbed wire fencing. The next year, Glidden was awarded a patent for a barbed wire fence he called The Winner. Glidden and Ellwood formed a business called The Barb Fence Company. The wire they produced was cheap, easy to manufacture, and effective at containing livestock. By 1880, Glidden had sold more than 80 million pounds of wire and become known as the Father of Barbed Wire.

The American landscape would never be the same. Prior to the invention of barbed wire, the American West was a vast, unbroken expanse of open prairie where Plains Indian tribes followed herds of buffalo. Some western settlers planted hedgerows to demarcate their property, but most allowed their cattle and sheep to graze freely on the open range until cowboys drove them to the eastern markets. After the introduction of barbed wire, Plains tribes and buffalos could no longer move freely along the landscape, and cowboys had nowhere to graze their herds on cattle drives. However, the cheap and portable barbed wire made it possible for farmers to settle on the Great Plains without needing to have expensive wooden rails shipped west for fencing to protect their crops from livestock.

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