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This Week in Illinois History: Joseph Glidden patents barbed wire (November 24, 1874)

On November 24, 1874, Joseph F. Glidden of DeKalb, Illinois received the patent for barbed wire. The 61-year-old had been farming in DeKalb for nearly 30 years when he began tinkering with fencing to keep his cattle from roaming.

The year before, Glidden had attended an agriculture fair with merchants Isaac Ellwood and Jacob Haish. They saw an invention to deter roaming cattle: a piece of wood with nails in it hanging on a wire fence. Joseph Glidden remarked, “The barb should be on the wire.”

Glidden tried several techniques, including bending sharp coils around a single smooth wire, but they wouldn’t stay in place. With a local blacksmith, he created a machine to tighten the barbs. Then he twisted a second wire around the first to secure them. Barbed wire was born.

Glidden first made the wire by hand and ran it along his property to prove its value. When demand soared, he mass produced his revolutionary product with Isaac Ellwood.

Jacob Haish also patented his version of barbed wire. Haish, Ellwood and Glidden became some of the wealthiest men in America. Their financial and land donations helped bring Northern Illinois University to DeKalb. The city itself is known as Barb City. The high school teams are called the Barbs. You can still visit the Glidden Homestead and Ellwood House to learn more about this simple yet world-changing invention.

Clint Cargile is the host of This Week in Illinois History and the creator and host of the podcast Drinkin’ with Lincoln.
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