The following is a very brief glimpse of the spread of barbed wire.

Joseph Glidden, a farmer from DeKalb, Illinois, invented the first practical method of manufacturing barbed wire. His patent #157,124 for the fencing was granted on November 24, 1874.

John W. Gates (aka "Bet-A-Million Gates"), a young salesman, went west to sell the new fence to cattlemen in Texas. He was not taken seriously, until he arranged a bet that his new wire would hold a herd of the toughest longhorns. A corral of the wire was built in San Antonio and 25 head of wild longhorn cattle were driven into it by excited, whooping cowboys. The longhorns charged the fence, but it held. A second attempt also held. By nightfall, Gates had more orders for the wire than he could fill.

In 1876 Bessemer Steel developed an efficient manufacturing process for making the wire and the price dropped from 18 cents to 8 cents a pound, making it available to even the poorest homesteader. Production of the wire went from 10,000 pounds in 1874 to more than 120,000,000 pounds in 1881 (2,000 pounds of the wire made two miles of three-strand fence.)

Production in DeKalb mushroomed between the competing companies controlled by Joseph Glidden & Isaac Ellwood and the company ran by Jacob Haish.

Farms could now be protected from "free ranging" cattle and efficient new breeds of cattle like Herefords, Shorthorns and Polled Angus were able to be developed free from the cross-breeding of the wild herds. Much of the animosity between cattlemen and farmers resulted from the introduction of barbed wire fences and many men died, sprawled across the barbed strands in the ensuing fence wars. But laws against fence cutting finally brought a halt to the wars, and domestication of the west followed the long strands of fences across the prairies.


Click here for another history of Barbed Wire from the Ellwood House Museum.


A Brief Time Line of Barbed Wire

1831
Ichabod Washburn from Massachusetts devised the method to produce drawn iron wire that became the origins of early wire fence and telegraph lines. Years later much of this fence would be armed with barbs by utilizing various types of hand-barbing tools.

1859
First cattle drive of Texas cattle reached Sedalia, Missouri and then proceeded by rail to New York. The eastern appetite for Texas beef had been whetted.

1860
The Civil War interrupts further cattle shipments.

1864
Homestead Act was passed - Pioneers moved westward and the need for cheap reliable fencing became urgent.

1865
Civil War ends and the mass migration west intensifies demand for fencing.

1871
Santa Fe Railroad reaches Newton, Kansas to meet the cattle trail from Texas.

1872
Branch railroad reaches Wichita, Kansas shortening the driven trail.

1873
First barbed wooden fencing strip produced by Henry Rose - Illinois.

1873
Meeting of Joseph Glidden, Isaac Ellwood and Jacob Haish at the Dekalb, Illinois state fair, observing the Henry Rose fence display, and agreeing to embark on their own inventions to improve fencing.

1874
In 1873, Jacob Haish invented a barbed wire and received the first patent issued for barbed wire by the Patent Office in January 1874.

1874
Most successful barbed wire patent by Joseph Glidden - Later known as "The Winner" after the Supreme Court decision of 1892. He invented a barbed wire in 1873 and received the patent in November 1874.

1874
Beginning of years of patent litigation over rights of ownership of the invention of barbed wire between Jacob Haish and Joseph Glidden.

1874
In July, for $265.00, Joseph Glidden sells Ellwood one-half interest in his barbed wire invention. Production begins on Glidden's farm. First barbed wire company was formed by Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood - Forerunner of United States Steel - 1907.

1874
First barbed wire machine patented by Joseph Glidden & Phineas Vaughan - DeKalb, Illinois.

1875
Ellwood and Glidden build their first barbed wire factory, on South Second Street in DeKalb. The factory building is still standing.

1875
Dramatic demonstration of barbed wire in San Antonio, Texas by John "Bet-A-Million" Gates successfully proving to Texas cattlemen the effectiveness of barbed wire.

1876
Ellwood becomes a partner in the Washburn and Moen Manufacturing Company of Worchester, Massachusetts.

1877
Ellwood and Washburn and Moan build a new factory in DeKalb. The factory extends from 4th to 6th streets on both sides of Locust Street. Ellwood buys 1200 acres of land west of North First Street.

1878
Large range war over boundaries of fencing that involved Billy the Kid in the Lincoln County Dispute - New Mexico.

1880
The word "barbwire" became the generally acceptable spoken word for barbed wire.

1880
First half-million pounds of barbwire produced and sold in DeKalb, Illinois.

1880-1890
First major worldwide users of barbwire were the many railroads' right-of-ways.

1881
Thomas H. Dodge became associated with Charles G. Washburn and organized the Barbed Fence Company of Worcester, Massachusetts. He was named president of the company.

1881
Haish constructed a large factory to manufacture his patented wire in and sold it in 1916 in order to retire.

1882
First galvanized barbwire produced.

1885
World's longest barbwire fence erected 2,400 miles across Australia and was named the "Dingo Fence".

1890
Beginning period when rural barbwire fencing gained usage as telephone lines.

1892
The Glidden patent was declared "The Winner" by the United States Supreme Court ruling on February 29, 1892. The court's ruling had far-reaching impact on future patent laws that continue to this day.

1898
I.L. Ellwood and Company is bought out by John W. ("Bet-a-Million") Gates, becoming part of the new American Steel and Wire Company.

1898
Cuba saw the first use of regular farm-fence barbwire as a defensive medium by the Spanish during the Spanish-American War.

1902
Barbwire was used in prisoner compounds during the Boer War.

1905
Barbwire was used as battlefield entanglements during the Russia-Japanese War.

1914
Barbwire used as “concertina” war wire in European campaign during World War I.

1941
First use of barbwire against submarines – Japan sunk carloads in their harbors to hinder submarine passage.

1959
First electric barbwire fence patented by Raymond Doerr – Michigan.

1966
First barbed wire collectors association was formed – Texas.

1971
First national barbed wire museum was established – La Crosse, Kansas.

1996
Last barbwire patent of the 20th century by P.H. White – Tennessee.


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