Discussing the invention of barbed wire is an interesting proposition. There were a number of people who invented fencing that could be called barbed wire, although their style of fencing never really caught on in a national way. Joseph Glidden is often called the Father of Barbed Wire, but it really traces back to a man named Henry Rose who came up with what we’d consider modern fencing.
In 1873 at a local county fair, Rose proposed new fencing that was a wooden rail that had a series of spikes that protruded from the fence. Three men, including Glidden, all had the idea that barbs attached to wires instead of wooden planks would be a good idea. They each went their separate ways to develop their own products. The other two men? They were Jacob Haish and Isaac Ellwood.
Why Is Joseph Glidden Considered the Inventor of Barbed Wire?
In 1863, Michael Kelly had developed a wire fence with points that were affixed to strands of wire. In many ways, it is much like the traditional barbed wire we think of today! It may even have been the inspiration behind Rose’s wooden barbed fences. The three men who saw Rose’s invention all went home to begin creating their own fencing.
Ellwood was a hardware merchant that loved the idea of barbed wire, but couldn’t perfect the product. When he saw that Glidden had been able to create a legitimate strand of barbed wire that could provide effective fencing, he knew what he needed to do. The two men formed a partnership and that was the beginning of the Barb Fence Company.
This didn’t set well with Haisch. He’d patented his own barbed wire, which today is called the “S” barb, in 1874 – about 6 months after Glidden had patented his own barbed wire fencing. Haisch wanted to take down the company that the other two had formed, especially since he hadn’t been included. Once he filed his patent, he also filed interference papers with the court regarding his invention and the actions of Glidden and Ellwood. Glidden won the dispute, however, because he filed for his patent first.
What About Charles Francis Washburn?
Sometimes people speak about Charles Francis Washburn in the conversation about barbed wire invention. Washburn was actually an executive at a manufacturing company when the Barb Fence Company was formed. He was responsible for producing plain wire in the Eastern US and saw that barbed wire was having a lot of success thanks to new fencing laws that required property owners to establish specific land separation lines.
Washburn actually convinced Glidden to sell his stake in the Barb Fence Company, causing Washburn to take over Glidden’s part of the business. Ellwood stayed with the company, however, and their success continued on – especially thanks to the fencing efforts that were taking place in Texas at the time. Eventually almost all of the barb wire companies joined forces together, with the exception, that is, of Jacob Haish.
The invention of barb wire helped to shape the US west in the 19th century. It protected range rights, property rights, and held livestock well.
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