Barbed Wire Fence Stretcher Tractor Supply Installation Service

The most practical and ultimately successful design for barbed wire was patented in 1874 by Joseph Glidden, a farmer in DeKalb, Illinois. Glidden’s design had three important characteristics: barbs prevented cattle from breaking the fence, twisted wires tolerated Temperature of conflicting decisions and passed a state-wide herd law making livestock owners liable for damage (Davis 1973, Kawashima 1994). Ellickson (1991) analyzes a modern California county, in which farmers and ranchers appeal more to social norms than strict legal responsibilities.

In Ellickson’s setting, social norms encourage ranchers to control cattle. changes, and the design was easy to manufacture. Glidden sold a half-stake in the patent for a few hundred dollars to Isaac Ellwood, a hardware merchant in DeKalb, and the two started the first commercial production of barbed wire, producing a few thousand pounds per year by hand. Barbed wire was cheaper than wooden fencing, particularly in timber-scarce areas, and it had lower labor requirements.

Ellwood wrote to sales agents in 1875 that he did “not expect the wire to be much in demand where farmers can build brush and pole fences out of the growth on their own land” and that “where lumber is reportedly dearer,the wire would probably sell for more”. In 1876, the country’s largest plain wire manufacturer (Washburn & Moen) bought half of the Glidden-Ellwood business for $60,000 cash plus royalties, and began the first large scale production of barbed wire.

In contrast to Glidden’s sale to Ellwood, Washburn & Moen’s purchase showed an awareness of barbed wire’s potential and they made “enormous profits” (Webb 1931, p.309). Newspaper advertisements began to appear in Kansas and Nebraska in 1878 and 1879 (Davis 1973, pp.133–134). There were a series of public demonstrations and, once the effectiveness of barbed wire was proved, “Glidden himself could hardly realize the magnitude of his business.

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One day he received an order for a hundred tons; ‘he was dumbfounded and telegraphed to the purchaser asking if his order should not read one hundred pounds’ ”(Webb 1931, p.312). In Iowa, wooden fences varied in total construction costs per rod from $0.91–$1.31 in 1871, while barbed wire fences cost $0.60 in 1874 and below $0.30 in 1885 (Bogue 1963b, p.8). Other reports quote barbed wire fences as costing $0.75 per rod in Indiana in 1880, while hedge fences cost $0.90 per rod and were wasteful of the land (Primack 1977, p.73).

Primack (1977, p.82) estimates that a rod of barbed wire took 0.08, 0.06, and 0.04 days to construct in 1880, 1900, and 1910. The labor requirements for constructing wooden fences were constant throughout this period: 0.20, 0.34, and 0.40 days for board, post and rail, and Virginia rail. This process began in 1875 when Washburn & Moen, headquartered in Massachusetts, sent an agent to investigate unusually large orders from DeKalb, Illinois.

They acquired barbed wire samples and designed automatic machines for its production. McFadden (1978) provides details on the further development of these businesses, with the 1899 incorporation of the American Steel and Wire Company of New Jersey leading to the monopolization of the barbed wire industry. Local newspapers that had successfully lobbied for herd law reform recognized the importance of barbed wire, writing: “every farm needs some fencing” and as “soon as a farmer is able, he fences his farm.

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There must be an apparent benefit” (Nebraska Farmer and Wichita Beacon, quoted in Davis, p.134). Legal and illegal fencing led to controversy and conflicton the range, as stockmen competed with each other and with farmers for control over land. This culminated in fence-cutting wars that were resolved by the late 1880s (McCallum and McCallum 1965, pp.159–166; Webb, pp.312–316).

Local recognition of barbed wire’s importance is most reflected in the rapid increase and magnitude of its use. Table I, Panel A, shows a sharp increase around 1880 in the annual production of barbed wire. Panel B shows the resulting transformation in regional fence stocks. Before 1880, fences were predominately made of wood. From 1870 to 1880, there were some small increases in wire fencing, including both smooth wire and barbed wire.

After 1880, there were rapid increases in barbed wire fencing. Total fencing increased most in the Plains and Southwest regions where there were more timber-scarce areas.  Wood fencing also initially increased, however, highlighting that it would be inappropriate to attribute all regional increases in fencing and economic activity to the introduction of barbed wire.