Barbed Wire

In the days of open range, cattle grazed freely over unfenced fields. Fencing especially disturbed western cattlemen who depended upon the open range, including private holdings, for grazing. Farmers fenced animals out of their crops, but as farm size increased and agriculture spread across the west, farmers needed a cheap substitute for scarce wood and stone. In 1874 Illinois farmers Joseph Farwell Glidden, Jacob Haish, and Isaac Ellwood almost simultaneously developed methods of attaching barbs to wire, a type of fencing that effectively kept cattle out of cropland. Despite patent fights and fierce competition, the barbed wire industry was launched and over time reconfigured rural geography. Both film and fiction depicted the often violent disagreement over fencing.
Currently not on view
Object Name
barbed wire
date made
Goss, Joseph
ID Number
catalog number
accession number
Artifact Walls exhibit
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Work and Industry: Agriculture
Artifact Walls exhibit
Data Source
National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center
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