The Origin of Barbed Wire

‘Barbed wire’ became a household word in the latter part of the 19th century, in 1873 to be exact.   Ten years prior, a gentleman by the name of Michael Kelly developed a type of wire, with attached points, which was intended to be used as fencing; but due to the fact that his product wasn’t effectively promoted, his name and his idea went by the wayside. 

Henry M. Rose gets credit for creating, developing, patenting and promoting a forerunner of ‘barbed wire’ which, in 1873, proudly went on display at the county fair in Dekalb, Illinois.   Mr. Rose crafted a wooden rail with sharp spikes that extended from the rail’s sides.  This prototype was intended to be attached to an existing fence to keep livestock from breaking through the fence line. 

And this is the beginning of our story—

Three Men And A Fence:

The 1873 Illinois county fair was alive with the earthy sights, sounds and smells of a much simpler time.   While Mr. Rose’s spiked creation was being proudly displayed in all its glory at the fair, three men were drawn to this fencing newcomer; and each man had some serious ideas on how this spiked piece of handiwork could be modified and improved.  All three men, Joseph Glidden, Jacob Haish and Isaac Ellwood set out on their own separate ways with a similar thought:  why not attach the spikes to a piece of wire instead of wood?

Joseph Glidden (man #1) experimented with how he could attach spikes to a piece of wire; and through trial and error, he finally came up with an ingenious method of positioning the barbed wiring in place on the main wire and using a special wheel, which while being turned, would twist the strands of the main wire and, in turn, lock the barbs in place.

While this creative thinking was going on, Isaac Ellwood (man #2) had been experimenting with the barbed-wire-on-wire concept, as well, but was met with lack of success and plenty of frustration.  Our story, however, continues and Joseph Glidden was awarded a patent, in November of 1874, for his own version of barbed wire—just over a year after he first spotted Mr. Rose’s county-fair exhibit.  

With all that being said, guess who teamed up together to promote barbed wire fencing?—Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood.  You might ask: Why would Glidden be interested in joining forces with Ellwood?  Well, it seems Isaac Ellwood owned a hardware store and you may have guessed it by now—Glidden and Ellwood formed a partnership to establish The Barb Fence Company.  An exciting new product on display in an established hardware store—a perfect marriage of product and environment which allowed this barbed creation to sell like hotcakes. 

Enter Man #3:

What about Jacob Haish, man #3?  Glad you asked.  Jacob Haish was on a roll with his own version of barbed-wire-on-wire but due to reasons unknown, chose not to promote and sell his version of the barbed-wire concept in a timely fashion.   It didn’t take long for Haish, however, to discover the news surrounding The Barb Fence Company.   Haish became furious when he realized he had been beaten to the punch and was being ‘cheated’ out of money from barbed-wire fencing sales that he felt should be his and his, alone.   Haish was determined to stake his rightful claim to future proceeds once he discovered that, in the early part of 1874, Glidden had applied for, but was denied, a patent for the barbed wire product.   Haish quickly filed a patent for his own product called the “S-Barb” in July of the same year.  But Haish’s determination didn’t stop there—he filed interference papers against Glidden which resulted in a passionate legal battle.   Can you guess who won the legal dispute?  Well, even though Haish had been awarded the initial patent, Glidden won the challenge simply because he had filed his patent prior to Haish, regardless of the fact that it was originally denied.   You may recall, earlier in our story, Glidden didn’t receive his patent’s acceptance until November of 1874.    Haish was unable to humbly admit defeat and declared himself to be “the inventor of barbed wire” even though Joseph Glidden was officially dubbed the “Father of Barbed Wire.” 

About the author:

As the asst. administrator for an online marketing organization, Dan toils to sustain corporations owned and operated in the U.S., such as BurlyCorp. He resides in LA, and is enjoying the days with his special wife plus their three children. Mr. H-man invites website visitors to look at his Google adventures today.