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Default June 25, 1867: Barbed Wire -- the Beta Version

1867: Lucien B. Smith patents barbed wire, an artificial "thorn hedge." It's an idea whose time clearly has come, but not quite in this form.
Smith's design called for spools of four short, sharp metal spikes at right angles. The spools would revolve loosely and be set every 2 to 3 feet along the fence wire.
William D. Hunt patented a similar design that year, and Michael D. Kelly did so the next. A patent battle was sure to follow, but none of these guys would win.
The great need was the Great Plains. As American settlement moved West in earnest, the spaces to enclose got bigger, while nearby materials for building fences -- wood and stones -- got scarcer. Growing hedgerows took time ... and water, also scarce. Shipping in materials for fencing got more expensive the farther you got from their source.
The fencing wire fence available at the time was brittle, and cattle could rub against the smooth wire with impunity until it broke or the fence posts loosened. Then the critters could wander into your kitchen garden, your cash crops, your neighbor's ranch or the wide open spaces where the deer and the antelope roamed.
Joseph F. Glidden got his idea for barbed wire when he saw Henry M. Rose's invention at a county fair: boards with sharp nails hanging from a smooth-wire fence. Glidden thought the board unnecessary and expensive: Why not put the barbs directly in the wire?
He rigged the crank of household coffee-bean grinder -- his wife's suggestion, the legend goes -- to twist the wire into loops that were then clipped off into sharp points. Irritating.
Glidden patented his version in 1874, then sold half his patent rights to hardware merchant Isaac Ellwood for $265 ($4,500 in today's money). Together they formed the Barb Fence Co. and started making and selling the stuff.
Soon there were 570 different patents for different types of wire, twists and barbs. A three-year legal battle ensued, but Glidden triumphed over all. By the time of his death in 1906, he was one of America's richest men.
Some people objected to the "devil's rope" as cruel to livestock, and they formed anti-barbed-wire associations. They initially got legislation passed in some states to ban barbed wire or at least hold fencers responsible for any damages they caused. But barbed wire caught on, as it were, because it was more effective and less expensive than other cattle fences. By the early 1880s, U.S. manufacturers were turning out half a million miles of barbed wire every year.
Railroads used prodigious amounts of the stuff to protect their rights-of-way livestock and livestock from their locomotives. Ranchers put up more thousands of miles on their own lands and sometimes, perhaps not legally, on public lands.
Herding livestock across the range to a distant market was no longer practical, and the era of cattle drives came to an end. Barbed wire fenced off much of the prairie, and the deer and the antelope roamed no more.
Barbed wire, of course, also works to deter humans and soon found uses protecting land and buildings against trespassers and burglars, and battlefield turf against enemy troops. British military manuals were already recommending its use by 1888, and it played a key role in the Spanish-American War, the Boer Wars in South Africa, and of course the extended trench warfare of World War I.
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