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Barbed Wire, the Thorny Fence that Transformed the West
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Michael Kelly’s “thorny fence” barbed wire

Michael Kelly’s “thorny fence” barbed wire

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Jacob Haish’s barbed wire
Jacob Haish’s barbed wire

Joseph Glidden’s barbed wire
Joseph Glidden’s barbed wire

Inventing the Barbed Wire

The barbed wire looked simple, but it worked.

In 1868 Michael Kelley--one of the first men to patent a form of barbed wire--wrote:

“My invention [imparts] to fences of wire a character approximating that of a thorn-hedge. I prefer to designate the fence so produced as a ’thorny fence’.”

Another inventor of an early type of barbed wire, Jacob Haish, wrote:

“You may well imagine my efforts were very crude when I state it was in my mind to plant Osage orange seed and when of suitable growth cut and weave it into plain wire and board fences, using the thorns as a safeguard against the encroachments of stock.”

Haish continued: “...Later, I saw wire married to wire and no divorce. It looked simple, I might say foolish, just a short piece of wire coiled between its ends around a straight parallel wire.”

A wire patented in 1874 by Joseph Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois, became the best-seller. Glidden’s design remains the most popular model of barbed wire today because of its simplicity and adaptability.

Next: Alexander Graham Bell, Telephone Inventor ›

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