The story

Barbed Wire

Barbed Wire

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Few inventions had more impact on the development of the West than did barbed wire. Barbed wire allowed for effective and economical fencing, which in turn led to an increase in the land available for Farming, since the foraging sheep and cattle could now be held at bay.

The growth in barbed wire production was phenomenal. In 1875, about 600,000 pounds of barbed wire was produced and sold in the United States. Just six years later, in 1881, that number had risen to 120 million pounds.

Not content with the profits that were coming from this growing industry, the manufacturers came together to form the Wire Trust. Its purpose was to inhibit competition and raise prices, which it was successful in doing. In 1911, the leaders of the Wire Trust were indicted for violating provisions of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. Among those indicted was a son-in-law of J.P. Morgan.

History of Barbed Wire

During the twentieth century, barbed wire became the symbol of war, death, destruction and human suffering. We all know the imagery from the First World War, the no-mans-land littered with barbed wire and bodies hanging in it. But it didn’t just remain in the First World War, after all, barbed wire is insanely effective and cost-efficient. During the Second World War, the Germans eagerly used it for concentration camps, and after the war, the iron curtain and the primitive version of the Berlin wall consisted of barbed wire.

And it is still used to protect borders and to imprison dangers to society even today. But the invention of this symbol of war wasn’t out of any military necessity. During the late 19th century a businessman and cattle-rancher from the United States wanted to keep his cattle in a particular area and did some experimenting. Little did he know his invention would not just change his personal fortune, but the history of the United States and the entire world. His invention brought an end to the Wild West, and greatly influenced the way warfare was conducted in the century afterwards. There is a reason why Native Americans referred to barbed wire as the ‘Devil’s rope.’

Early versions

Barbed wire was invented in 1874 by the American businessman and rancher Joseph Farwell Glidden. It is the type of barbed wire we still know today, robust, sturdy and cost-efficient. It’s effective in its simplicity: two steel wires wrapped along with barbs at regular intervals. Glidden initially invented it as a way to enclose cattle on massive American ranches and to mark private property.

Before we get to Glidden’s version of barbed wire we know today, I want to take a quick look at its earlier versions.

Because in 1860 Léonce Eugène Grassin-Baledan, a French inventor received a patent for his version of barbed wire. He created a form that was used to protect trees against wildlife and animals. It is said this version did what it was meant to do, but it was challenging to produce and use on a large scale. Farmers and ranchers didn’t necessarily see a use for it yet. Seven years later Lucien B. Smith obtained a patent on his version of barbed wire, which he named “thorny wire”, although that too didn’t see any mass-production or use. According to a Popular Science article, between 1867 and 1874 over 200 different patents for “spiked fencing” were processed. There were variations in the design some had alternating spikes or wood with studded tips. But all of these types of barbed wire were still made by hand, thus making it inefficient for mass production.

Now, as for Joseph Glidden, his success was in part thanks to the favourable circumstances. His timing was perfect and his product was better than that of his competitors because it could be mechanically-produced. As for the timing, in 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead Act opened up millions of acres. Any adult could apply and claim 160 hectares if they were willing to settle on, and farm the land. But because of the rough conditions, there was a lack of trees, and wooden fences weren’t that efficient to close off land.

In the little American town of Dekalb in Illinois, Glidden purchased 243 hectares of ground where he wanted to establish a cattle ranch. It was challenging to keep the cattle in the enclosed area the story goes that the cattle regularly broke out, only to start grazing in the vegetable garden his wife tended to. After some brainstorming Joseph thought of a solution: he bought multiple rolls of iron wire. He then used a coffee mill to wrap the wire tightly around barbs, and used a second wire to keep the barbs in place. The final product was very effective. It kept the cattle in check and at the same time was a great way to mark his lands.

He patented barbed wire in 1874, but before long questions arose about its originality. Glidden ended up involved in a legal dispute, which was not settled until 1892. You can view the original case of 1892 on the official website, of which the link is in the description. Already before Glidden won the case he established the “Barb’s Fence Company” in DeKalb. It led to him rapidly earning enough to become a wealthy and affluent businessman. Glidden ended up with five patents on barbed wire and by 1877 he was already producing three million pounds of barbed wire annually.

Because of its simplicity news rapidly spread and in the region dozens of barbed wire factories sprung up. Not all of these factories held the patent, and as such, the illegal production of barbed wire too increased. One of the best examples is that of John “Bet-A-Million” Warne Gates. According to the Texas State Historical Association, he built the largest manufacturer and distributor of unlicensed non-patented, so-called moonshine, barbed wire, earning him quite the fortune.

The popularity of barbed wire grew across the nation, and as news about this efficient method to keep cattle enclosed spread throughout the United States, everyone wanted a piece. The wire, at first glance, didn’t seem as sturdy as a wooden fence. So imagine the surprise when a cheap and seemingly weak wire managed to stop cattle from breaking out. It only added to the enthusiasm surrounding the product.

To give you an idea: in 1884 the newspaper ‘The Prairie Farmer’ published a special edition about the ‘phenomenon that in industrialised history has met no equal.’ And the sales numbers backed that up. In 1882 the same newspaper published some statistics about barbed wire: that year 82 million kilos were sold, an 18000-fold increase since 1874. Joseph Gidden managed to become a millionaire, a rare feat at the time. Throughout the years he became, besides a businessman, the sheriff, member of the Board of Supervisors of Dekalb County and member of the executive committee of agriculture. In 1876 he even was the candidate for the democratic party for the US Senate elections. At the time of Glidden’s death in 1906, he was among the richest men of the United States, having a net worth of around a million dollars including the Glidden House Hotel, the DeKalb Rolling Mill, a factory, the DeKalb Chronicle newspaper and farming grounds in Illinois and Texas. The little town Glidden in Iowa is named after him.

Barbed Wire in War

The invention of barbed wire did influence the history of the United States significantly, and world history as well. As for the United States, it led to the rapid progression of the final stage of colonisation and the trek westward. Barbed wire made it incredibly easy to enclose private territory, which led to an end of the real Wild West.

The volume of confrontations between farmers and cattle ranchers increased. Farmers that marked their territory with barbed wire in effect closing it off to third parties, and made it impossible for other cattle to graze on it. There even is a Lucky Luke story about this development: Barbed Wire on the Prairie. In effect, the cowboys and cattle ranchers had to start sharing the Wild West with farmers. Because of the ability to fence off property, the gap between landless and landowning-classes became more apparent than it had been.

By 1885, only 11 years after Glidden started the mass-production of barbed wire, the entire Texas Panhandle was wired. Its effects, aside from clashes between cattle ranchers and farmers, was disastrous for wildlife. Suddenly many animals could not exploit their natural habitat anymore, losing meadows they grazed on or springs they used to drink out of. Wild buffalo, known for having impaired vision, could not see the wire and often became entangled in it, dying of hunger, thirst or their wounds. It was the reason Native Americans referred to it as the devil’s rope.

Aside from the Wild West, barbed wire became an icon of the horrors of the First World War. . Aside from the trenches, it was used to close off borders. One of the notorious examples is the Dodendraad, the wire of death: a lethal electric fence put up by the German military to control the Dutch-Belgian border during the First World War. These fences were put up to prevent smuggling and military desertions. The wire of death on the border caused dozens of deaths between 1915 and 1918, often killing smugglers, but occasionally unaware citizens too.

But the Dodendraad is a pretty uncommon example for the use of barbed wire. Because trench warfare and the no man’s land between the German and French trenches are more potent icons of the misery of the First World War. Over a million miles of barbed wire was laid out on the Western front during the war. Everyone knows the photographs of bodies hanging in it. During this war barbed wire became a symbol of the hopelessness of trench warfare and the millions of lives wasted on the frontlines, in suicidal charges.

Yet although it was deadly and used for those horrors, we cannot deny its success. A testament to the success of barbed wire is the incredible amount of variations of it. In Jack Glover’s ‘The Bobbed Wire Bible’, published in 1972, over 700 types of barbed wire knots are listed. And even nowadays developments aren’t finished yet. In the 1980s the substance of the steel wires was mixed with carbon fibre, creating more flexible, yet still strong and durable wires. By subjecting the wires to extreme heat the carbon molecules crystallised. Evoking this chemical reaction, in short drastically decreases the weight of the wire whilst maintaining its strength. In addition, during the early 21st century, the contents of the coating of anti-rust for the wire changed. This led to the tripling, if not quadrupling of the life expectancy of barbed wire. As such even though officially barbed wire entered the stage during the 19th century, and it changed the entire world, even today it is still not done developing.


The advertisements of the time touted it as "The Greatest Discovery Of The Age", patented by Joseph Glidden, of De Kalb Illinois. Gates described it more poetically: "lighter than air, stronger than whiskey, cheaper than dust".

We simply call it barbed wire.

50 Things That Made the Modern Economy highlights the inventions, ideas and innovations that helped create the economic world.

Calling it the greatest discovery of the age might seem hyperbolic, even allowing for the fact that the advertisers didn't know Alexander Graham Bell was about to be awarded a patent for the telephone.

But while we accept the telephone as transformative, barbed wire wrought huge changes on the American West, and much more quickly.

Joseph Glidden's design for barbed wire wasn't the first, but it was the best.

Glidden's design is recognisably modern.

The wicked barb is twisted around a strand of smooth wire, then a second strand of smooth wire is twisted together with the first to stop the barbs from sliding around. American farmers snapped it up.

There was a reason they were so hungry for it.

A few years earlier, President Abraham Lincoln had signed the Homestead Act of 1862.

The History of Barbed Wire

The swift emergence of this highly effective tool as the favored fencing method changed life in the wild west as dramatically as the rifle, six-shooter, telegraph, windmill, and locomotive.

Without fencing, livestock grazed freely, competing for fodder and water. Where working farms did exist, most property was unfenced and open to foraging by roaming cattle and sheep.

Before barbed wire, the lack of effective fencing limited farming and ranching practices, and the number of people who could settle in an area. The new fencing changed the West from vast and undefined prairies/plains to a land of farming, and widespread settlement.

Wooden fences were costly and difficult to acquire on the prairie and plains, where few trees grew. Lumber was in such short supply in the region that farmers were forced to build houses of sod.

Likewise, rocks for stone walls were scarce on the plains. Barbed wire proved to be cheaper, easier, and quicker to use than any of these other alternatives.

Michael Kelly - First BW Fencing

The first wire fences (before the invention of the barb) consisted of only one strand of wire, which was constantly broken by the weight of cattle pressing against it.

Michael Kelly made a significant improvement to wire fencing, he twisted two wires together to form a cable for barbs - the first of its kind.

Known as the thorny fence, Michael Kelly's double-strand design made fences stronger, and the painful barbs made cattle keep their distance.

Joseph Glidden - King of the Barb

Predictably, other inventors sought to improve upon Michael Kelly's design among them was Joseph Glidden, a farmer from De Kalb, IL.

In 1873 and 1874, patents were issued for various designs to compete against Micheal Kelly's invention. But the recognized winner was Joseph Glidden's design for a simple wire barb locked onto a double-strand wire.

Joseph Glidden's design made barbed wire more effective, he invented a method for locking the barbs in place, and invented the machinery to mass-produce the wire.

Joseph Glidden's U.S. patent was issued November 24, 1874. His patent survived court challenges from other inventors. Joseph Glidden prevailed in litigation and in sales. Today, it remains the most familiar style of barbed wire.

Living patterns of the nomadic Native Americans were radically altered. Further squeezed from lands they had always used, they began calling barbed wire the Devil's rope.

More fenced-off land meant that cattle herders were dependent on the dwindling public lands, which rapidly became overgrazed. Cattle herding was destined to become extinct.

BW and Warfare and Security

After its invention, barbed wire was widely used during wars, to protect people and property from unwanted intrusion. Military usage of barbed wire formally dates to 1888, when British military manuals first encouraged its use.

During the Spanish American War, Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders chose to defend their camps with the help of barbed fencing. In turn-of-the-century South Africa, five-strand fences were linked to blockhouses sheltering British troops from the encroachment of Boer commandos. During World War I, barbed wire was used as a military weapon.

Even now, barbed wire is widely used to protect and safeguard military installation, to establish territorial boundaries, and for prisoner confinement.

Used on construction and storage sites and around warehouses, barbed wire protects supplies and persons and keeps out unwanted intruders.

Barbed Wire

In the Old West, ranchers and settlers needed a way to protect and keep control of their herd, as well as maintain their lands. A feat easier said than done, until the invention of barbed wire. Before barbed wire, fences had to be made either completely out of wood, or hedge rows were planted to make a barrier, but neither was a viable option in the West.

The search for that perfect style of wire sent inventors down a lot of interesting paths before landing on what is more recognized today. The museum has a collection of more than 8,000 different strands of wire, as well as having 1,300 strands on display. But even though barbed wire is still widely used today, that doesn’t mean that it is, or has ever been well liked by most cowboys.

Richard Spencer, a New Mexican rancher, tells the story of barbed wire from the cowboy’s perspective, as well as displays an old cowboy trick to fixing fence.

For more information on barbed wire, visit the Dickinson Research Center.

Barbed Wire - History

Barbed Wire
Joseph F. Glidden
Family Heritage
Homestead Restoration


Museum Information
Gift Shop
Board / Staff

Joseph F. Glidden was granted a patent on November 24, 1874 for "The Winner," what became one of the most-widely used types of barbed wire in the nation. It all began on the Glidden farm, at the time &ldquoa mile west of the city of DeKalb.&rdquo

Joseph began searching for a better fencing method after his wife, Lucinda, complained about livestock getting into the yard. Lucinda, in her own later recollections, told about her large wire hairpins that began disappearing from a milk-glass dish on her dresser during the winter of 1872-73. She questioned their 20-year-old daughter, Elva Frances, who denied taking them.

The puzzle bothered Lucinda until one evening after supper when she noticed her husband reach in his shirt pocket and take out two of her missing hairpins. "Joseph, what are you doing with my hairpins?" she asked. He replied that he was working on an idea for a fence.

When the weather improved, Joseph purchased a reel of smooth fence wire from Isaac Ellwood's hardware store and began experimenting. At one point, he tried to form a piece of wire into a small coil that would fit reasonably tight on a single strand of wire. After being struck with a hammer, it would tightly clinch around the wire and stay in place.

However, with only pliers as tools, Joseph found it difficult to produce a coil small enough with sufficient uniformity for his needs. He took his problem to his long-time friend and blacksmith Phineas Vaughan. Together, they took apart an old coffee mill and reassembled it, utilizing the principle of a moving sleeve and a lug. With a turn of the crank, the machine produced a small uniform-sized coil.

Joseph Glidden then returned to his experiment of clinching the coils with their tangs and twisting it with another smooth wire on the single strand. Thus, he came to invent the first practical "barbed wire." This barbed wire became the template on which all of the most successful barbed wire designs were based.

The idea of a thorny or barbed wire fence constructed with sharp spines or points to ward off livestock was not then entirely new, according to a history of DeKalb County. Michael Kelly had patented a barbed wire for fencing on November 17, 1868, which was reissued April 4, 1876. But it consisted of a flat wire, with the barbs inserted in holes made through it.

Glidden&rsquos first patent on May 12, 1874, was a decided improvement on the Kelly model. It consisted of a round fence wire and a barb formed of two short, pointed pieces of wire, secured in place upon the fence wire by coiling between their ends, which were extended to present four points in different directions. But on November 24, Glidden patented still another improvement (The Winner), substituting a double twisted wire for the single wire, upon which was fixed a piece of pointed wire coiled in the center, forming two transverse points.

From manufacturing a few of these by hand on his farm, Glidden progressed to making the material by horse-power, using at first a single horse to propel his imperfect machinery, which over the years was improved until "its perfection is a matter of astonishment to all beholders," according to the history of DeKalb County.

"This machinery, together with the extensive establishment, has all been created out of the raw material within the incredibly short period of two years, during which time the large sums of money expended have been made in the business itself so that it has been self-developing and self-supporting, and has created in addition a large surplus. The secret of its financial success is the fact that it has met a want everywhere urgently felt all over the great prairie country of the West and the vast territory being of such varied climate that the demand is as great in winter as in summer. At no time during any of the seasons, is there not fencing going on in some portion of the great field in which this fence is demanded--in Illinois or Iowa, in Texas or California," the history reported.

Glidden first convinced his neighbors of the practicability of the invention by making it with his own hands and setting off his farm portions with the fence. As these experiments were gradually improved and exhibited, the demand for the fence became urgent. In July, 1874, Glidden entered into partnership with the young, energetic Isaac L. Ellwood, and commenced manufacturing in the City of DeKalb. The business soon outgrew their facilities and in the winter of 1874-75, they erected a larger building.

Ridiculous History: Ranchers Hacked Barbed Wire Fences to Create Phone Lines

Consider the technological advances of the early 1900s. The era introduced refrigerators, radios and the first electric washing machines, just to name a few. It also ushered in one of the most widespread — and simplest — technologies to change communication: the barbed wire.

While barbed wire may seem like an unlikely "tech," at the time it was an ingenious way for farmers and ranchers to encircle their territory. But that's not all! Barbed wire also let people communicate with each other from isolated houses and far-flung pasture corners — all it required was hooking a store-bought telephone to wire fencing.

There were already miles of barbed wire fences strung as property lines and pasture dividers throughout the expanse of the United States, from the Great Plains to the Midwest and Southwest. Turning them into telephone lines turned out to be a relatively straightforward process.

Typically, a smooth wire was strung from a telephone in a house or barn to a barbed wire fence. From there, it hooked into the top strand of barbed wire (most fences had at least three strands) and the telephone signal would follow the length of the wire to a second telephone that was connected to the barbed wire down the line. Sometimes as many as 20 or more telephones at various rural homes were connected onto a single barbed-wire system.

The system, while workable, was imperfect. Barbed wire fences didn't run seamlessly throughout the countryside, so overhead or buried wires were used to bridge communication over roads, ditches and other gaps in fencing. And there were frequent outages brought on by cattle breaking through fences, or by rain that grounded the signal. And insulators, which ranged from porcelain knobs to broken bottles, were used to keep the barbed wire from touching the fence posts, but those weren't always effective.

For the most part, however, this low-cost telephone system kept people connected. Most of these telephone systems were a “party line,” which meant that all the telephones connected to the same phone network all rang at the same time. To combat confusion, people developed specific rings. To reach one family, a caller might give a combination of one long and one short ring. To call another family, the signal might be two short rings. In general, a long and continuous ring signaled an emergency, such as a fire or injury, causing everyone to pick up to hear the message.

The ability of everyone to listen in, at any time, was another feature (or hazard) of the “party line.” There was no guarantee, and little expectation, of having private conversations. In fact, some people would read the newspaper or play music over the party line so everyone could communally listen in. Occasionally, these rural telephone systems would develop into a system with a central party-line operator who ran a limited-hour switchboard from one of the connected homes.

At one time, farm and ranch households were the most well-networked in the nation. In 1912, for example, more rural farm homes had telephones than did urban homes. Although those numbers began to fall significantly after World War II, there are reports that several homes in Texas continued to use barbed wire telephones well into the 1970s.

Inventors in the United States have filed more than 500 patents for barbed wire in more than 2,000 variations.

Beanz Magazine

Barbed wire and software has led to endless lawsuits, knockoffs, and innovations. Not much changes, does it?

Recently, I had half an hour to kill so I watched part of an episode of American Pickers, a US show about two guys who travel the United States in search of antiques and junk they resell to collectors. They found an obscure museum where the owner wanted to shut down rather than pay his town $750 for a museum license. But what intrigued me was his collection of barbed wire.

You might think barbed wire is extremely boring and has no connection or parallels with computer science or programming. It’s wire twisted and sharpened and strung between fence posts, end of story.

Barbed wire is a technology. There are hundreds perhaps thousands of patents for different kinds of barbed wire. And the history of barbed wire as a technology and in the field is as contentious as software patents today.

Which got me thinking, since this Off Beat article is about using for fun the research skills I use to create this magazine, exactly how do you patent barbed wire? Are there really that many differences, one much better than another? And did people sue each other to defend patents?

So let’s take a detour and explore barbed wire, patents, and an obscure corner of technology history.

Barbed Wire? Really?

Without sounding like your grandfather or grandmother, or someone really really old, the US economy used to be spread out. Today you can buy the same model of computer at Best Buy in New York or California. This is a new phenomenon, not an experience most people had even fifty years ago. Many people kept chickens in urban cities. Some also had gardens to provide much of their what they ate. Read Jane Austen or Mark Twain, for example, and you won’t find characters shopping for food at Trader Joe’s or Safeway. People who bought from markets used the local store in their town, what we might call a convenience store, which stocked food, guns, clothing, toys, and other stuff.

What’s this got to do with barbed wire?

As people settled down in the US (to the detriment of Native Americans, I should note), they wanted fences to mark off their farms and properties. On the East Coast of the US, people used stones to mark off property limits. Elsewhere people built wood fences. Barbed wire solved the problem of trespassers on the flat prairies in the vast plains in the middle of the US. Barbed wire kept your livestock at home.

However, fenced plots on the plains made it more difficult, or impossible, for cows to be herded from Texas up north to Chicago over your land. Ranchers driving large herds to slaughterhouses conflicted with the needs of farmers. And Native Americans who could care less about fences.

Today a big hairy software programming problem might be how to capture, store, and retrieve activity data for millions of users spread across countries and continents. With barbed wire, a big hairy problem was truly big and hairy: a bull or cow that refused to let barbed wire stop them from wandering free.

The History of Barbed Wire

Now that you (hopefully) agree barbed wire is a technology designed to solve a problem &mdash how to keep Bessie on or off your land, let’s research the history of barbed wire.

The first search result for the history of barbed wire turns up one notable fact: the person who invented barbed wire was not the first to make money on it. Or the first to hold a patent. The idea was stolen, in other words.

Henry M. Rose, a farmer, displayed a wooden rail with sharp wire points to be attached to a fence rail at the DeKalb County Fair in 1873. Today you attend technology conferences to learn how to become a better software programmer. In 1873, you attended the county fair to learn about the latest products and meet people who could help you be a better farmer.

Three men examined Rose’s invention and turned it into a product. Instead of a wooden rail, the sharp points were attached to a single wire currently used.

The three men were Jacob Haish, Joseph Glidden, and Isaac Ellwood. Inspired by Rose’s design, Glidden and Ellwood independently created their own wire designs. When Ellwood saw Glidden’s version of barbed wire, he recognized Glidden had the better solution. They went into business together to patent and market barbed wire. Meanwhile, Jacob Haish then saw Glidden’s version of barbed wire, got jealous, tweaked his design then filed for a patent. Then he submitted interference papers to stop Glidden and Ellwood from filing patents for their wire design.

Can you say, barbed wire troll? Sounds like patent troll. It’s also interesting the question of which works better &mdash open source or proprietary ownership of key technology ideas &dash immediately sprang up with barbed wire. Proprietary ownership resulted in a ton of lawsuits and employed lots of lawyers over decades, a lot of wasted unproductive activity.

Anyway, back to the story. Haish versus Glidden and Ellwood led to both creating companies to produce and sell barbed wire. An East Coast producer of single wire fencing, the Washburn and Moen Company of Massachusetts, approached Haish to partner and let them sell this new type of wire. Haish rejected them. Glidden and Ellwood made deals. Glidden took a royalty payment. Ellwood merged his work with Washburn Moen. They soon bought up many of the first barbed wire patents to strengthen their position. It began decades of competition. And lawsuits.

Barbed Wire Patents and Lawsuits

One of the interesting bits about the history of barbed wire apparently is that no factual history exists. Examples of barbed wire existed before Rose’s fence rail with sharp wires appeared. However, none were produced and sold in large quantities. And what histories exist come from the lawsuits traded between Haish and Ellwood.

It was Jacob Haish who used patents to try and beat Glidden and Ellwood to market. From there, the game was on.

So how many ways can you design barbed wire?

A website called says 800 with about 2,000 variations. A US National Park Service site says over 500 patents. Ellwood’s company quickly grew to dominate the market for barbed wire. Which led to about 150 smaller producers with competing patents and designs to file lawsuits against his company for monopolizing the market. These small fry wire producers were called moonshiners.

The National Park Service site also notes there are 2,000 variations on the over 500 patents because individual farmers rolled their own barbed wire. They used designs they had seen, improved designs they had seen, or created their own ideas.

One noteworthy detail: from Haish’s patent lawsuits to block Glidden and Ellwood, the patent lawsuit game evolved to others suing Ellwood’s company before it evolved to Ellwood’s company using lawsuits to shut down the small fry moonshiners.

Barbed Wire - History

As one of the three classic technological innovations that assisted in the economic development of the western United States (the others being the windmill and the revolver), barbed wire played a vital role in the development of the prairie-plains of Indian Territory after the Civil War. "Barbed wire" consists of one or more strands of metal wire implanted with sharpened metal spikes, or barbs, at regular intervals. Smooth-wire fencing was in general use when the first practical barbed wire appeared in 1868, created in New York by Michael Kelly. Because it used very sharp spikes, which often caused injuries to horses, cattle, and men, it was nicknamed "vicious" wire. In 1874 Joseph Glidden patented a more marketable "obvious" barbed wire (with larger, dull-pointed, and safer barbs). Although hundreds of varieties were patented, the most popular were 2-Point Baker and 2-Point Glidden. While most historians generally credit farmers with being the first to use the new product, in the Indian Territory barbed wire was first adopted by cattlemen soon after its invention.

After the Civil War ended in the Indian Territory, cattle raising became an important economic activity, both among the American Indian nations, to whom the region belonged, and to white ranchers from Texas or elsewhere who leased grazing land from them. Contemporary ranching practice on the Great Plains, and also in the prairie-plains of the Indian Territory, allowed cattle to freely roam and graze, restricted only by canyons, rivers, and other natural barriers. Cowboys kept the herds within the owner's range, doctored and branded them, and protected them from predators and thieves. Whether conducted by American Indians or by white lessees, open-range ranching was the common practice until the introduction of barbed-wire fences.

Open-range ranching gave rise to the semiannual roundup, spring and fall, in which cowboys from various ranches combined their efforts to gather the animals. When the cattle had been assembled in one place, they were sorted by brand, and each owner herded his own animals back to his territory. After the spring roundup the cattle were moved to the southern ranges. After the fall roundup cattle were selected to be sent to market. Cattle raised in this way were usually wild, tough longhorns capable of surviving the environmental disasters that might befall animals wandering in "loose" herds. The roundup proceeded in a circuit from ranch to ranch. For example, ranchers in the Cherokee Outlet organized a roundup circuit as early as 1880, and it extended into Kansas. Another circuit started in northeastern New Mexico and moved eastward into present Oklahoma. In the Chickasaw Nation one of several circuits began at Atoka (in the Choctaw Nation) and moved northwest and then north to present Ada, southwest to near present Roff and Sulphur, and back to Atoka.

The open-range system on the plains allowed interregional herd movement. In winter, Kansas cattle sometimes drifted southward from the Platte and Arkansas rivers into the Public Land Strip or Cherokee Strip or southward from the Beaver (North Canadian) River into more southerly ranges, even as far south as the Little and Red rivers. Fencing could correct the problem, and thus the barbed-wire product found early application in the Texas Panhandle.

In 1880–81 cattlemen there constructed a 175-mile-long drift fence from the Indian Territory border westward to New Mexico. Its probable location was approximately fifteen miles south of the southern border of the Strip (or No Man's Land, the Oklahoma Panhandle). Opposition to this kind of long-distance fencing surfaced in the severe winters of the mid-1880s when thousands of cattle piled up against the wire and died during a series of blizzards. The catastrophe was a huge financial loss and ever after has been known as the "big die-up." Nevertheless, during the 1880s closed-land ranching developed as the norm throughout the Indian Territory.

In the Cherokee Outlet of northern Indian Territory, large-scale cattle raising developed in the late 1870s. Individual Texas cattlemen and corporate ranch managers began to enclose numerous areas with fences beginning in 1882, generally with the Cherokees' approval. These barriers, using locally cut timber as fence posts and strung with barbed wire, allowed a rancher to keep his herds on their home range and prevented other herds from using his grazing lands. Cattlemen enclosed horse pastures to keep cattle out, marked cattle ranges to keep herds from drifting too far, and separated areas to protect other property. Fences also halted the incursions of potentially Texas fever–infected cattle from south of the Red River. However, in early 1883 the U.S. Department of the Interior decided that the fencing was an "improvement" (implying land ownership) and threatened to remove all of it. This stimulated the ranchmen to incorporate the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association in early 1883. It soon negotiated a five-year land lease with the Cherokee Nation. The fencing was declared to be temporary, was deemed property of the Cherokee Nation, and was allowed to remain. When the lease was ended, the federal government ordered all cattle to be removed from the Outlet by October 1890. Ranchers removed their cattle but left much of the fencing. It was salvaged by ranchers from Kansas and later by area farmers after the Cherokee Outlet opening of September 1893. South of the Outlet, a similar drift fence extended westward from Vici for several miles.

Among the five major southeastern tribes of the Indian Territory, land was owned in common, and fencing was not a traditional way to protect property or cattle. In the Cherokee Nation the range generally remained unfenced until Texas ranchers began leasing land there. Officially, the Cherokee Nation remained all free range, although observers noted fifteen- to twenty-mile-long drift fences in places, sometimes eight or ten miles apart. After allotment, free range no longer existed, as Indians thereafter held small plots, and most of the cattlemen left.

In the Chickasaw Nation of south-central Oklahoma, open-range ranching was practiced on a small scale before the Civil War. Chickasaws ranched extensively, running an estimated 140,000 head in their nation by 1882. They also used the new wire. For example, Montford T. Johnson and his son E. B. (Edward) operated a sizeable ranch on the western side of the nation. E. B. Johnson observed the use of barbed wire on a trip to the East in 1885, and he brought back enough to enclose a mile-square horse pasture. After observing that the wire did not cut up his livestock, his neighbors also began using it. In the 1880s, because the white ranchers had been enclosing huge ranges with wire, thereby impeding traffic across the nation and implying an "ownership" of the land by non-Indians, the Chickasaw Nation's legislature limited pastures to 640 acres. In April 1889 the Chickasaw legislature empowered Ben Pikey and a group of other ranchers to build a "barb wire drift line" along the entire length of the main (South) Canadian River in their home county, in order to protect their property from settlers coming into the Unassigned Lands to the north. By 1906, when the allotment of Chickasaw lands to individual Indians was complete, pasture fences had become common.

In Old Greer County, technically a part of Texas until 1896, Texas cattlemen also practiced free-range cattle raising and used barbed wire to keep their herds apart. Numerous interviews in the 1930s Indian-Pioneer History Collection refer to lengthy fences running north and south and in one instance, the Day Land and Cattle Company apparently erected one east to west across the entire region. Anecdotal mention is also made of cattle freezing to death by piling up against barbed-wire fences during the "big die-up."

Barbed-wire fencing gradually became useful for keeping cattle out of, rather than within, areas. As homesteaders and other settlers moved into newly opened regions, they adopted the practice of fencing their fields. William Beaumont, who in 1888 settled near present Mangum, claimed to have fenced the first ten-acre farming patch in Old Greer County. However, American Indian ranchers such as E. B. Johnson saw barbed wire's other utility, and he fenced in several mile-square plots and hired farmers to grow various crops there.

The spread of barbed-wire fencing spelled the end of the open-range cattle industry and the roundup circuit as well. Ultimately, and more importantly, fencing of grazing land in all areas of Oklahoma has facilitated the development of high-grade, registered cattle breeds, such as the Hereford and the Angus, that produce superior, more marketable beef. In the process, as noted by Great Plains historian Walter Prescott Webb, the open range gave way to the enclosed pasture, and "ranching" became "stock-farming." The primary beneficiaries of barbed wire, however, were the homesteaders who came to Oklahoma Territory in the numerous land runs and other openings, established farms, and put up fences. Many farmers added cattle raising to their agricultural pursuits. The cattle industry remained a significant income-producing activity throughout the twentieth century in Oklahoma, due in large part to the universal adoption of barbed-wire fencing in the 1880s.


Mary Ann Anders, Ranching Resource Protection Planning Documents, Regions One–Seven, 1984–1985, State Historic Preservation Office, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City.

Edward Everett Dale, "The Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 5 (March 1927).

Arrell M. Gibson, "Ranching on the Southern Great Plains," Journal of the West 6 (January 1987).

Neil R. Johnson, The Chickasaw Rancher, ed. C. Neil Kingsley (Rev. ed. Boulder: University Press of Colorado, 2001).

Henry D. McCallum and Frances T. McCallum, The Wire That Fenced the West (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965).

William W. Savage, Jr., "Barbed Wire and Bureaucracy: The Formation of the Cherokee Strip Live Stock Association," Journal of the West 7 (July 1968).

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society (OHS). This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society (unless otherwise stated).


The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Dianna Everett, &ldquoBarbed Wire,&rdquo The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture,

© Oklahoma Historical Society.

Oklahoma Historical Society | 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73105 | 405-521-2491
Site Index | Contact Us | Privacy | Press Room | Website Inquiries

Galvanized razor wire

I am seeking your help to get the answers of the following queries related with hot dipped galvanised razor wire.

1). What is the minimum thickness in micron for razor wire blade.
2). What is the minimum thickness in microns for steel wire used in razor wire.

Imtiyaz Khan
- Karachi Pakistan

A. Hi cousin. I think you would need to start with some standards-writing body if you want the material to comply to some minimum standard.

See, for example, CID A-A-997 "BARBED WIRE (GALVANIZED)", CID A-A-55522A "BARBED TAPE, CONCERTINA", FED RR-F-221/3A "FENCE POSTS AND ACCESSORIES (DETAIL SPECIFICATION)" or ASTM A121-13, "Standard Specification for Metallic-Coated Carbon Steel Barbed Wire". Good luck.

Ted Mooney , P.E.
Striving to live Aloha - Pine Beach, New Jersey
^ is made possible by .
this text gets replaced with bannerText

Disclaimer: It's not possible to fully diagnose a finishing problem or the hazards of an operation via these pages. All information presented is for general reference and does not represent a professional opinion nor the policy of an author's employer. The internet is largely anonymous & unvetted some names may be fictitious and some recommendations might be harmful.

If you are seeking a product or service related to metal finishing, please check these Directories:

Watch the video: How to make display barbed wire (August 2022).