Troubles, history of barbed wire fences

Several of us old-timers remember stretching barbed wire and fighting with it while trying to nail it to a post.

When I was young, I used to hate the barbed wire because its double-twisted strands of stiff wire were often difficult to work with, especially when stretching it.

Our dad used to sit under a tree, a beer in hand, and supervise my brother Bob and me while we worked with the wire.

We never seemed to stretch it tight enough for Dad, even when we struck it and it twanged like a guitar string.

One time I did stretch it too tight and it broke. The wire whipped around like a snake. Bob and I, however, ran fast enough to evade its whipping about.

The barbs were also a big problem when coon hunting in the middle of a dark night.

Then, now. Besides being used to fence off areas, barbed wire was, and still is, used as a defense in the military and around jails and prisons. It is also on top of chain fences almost everywhere in civilian industry.

Today on farms and ranges the wire is either two- or four-point barbs, in double-twisted, longitudinal strand wire. It is lighter and constructed of more ductile steel with shorter barbs.

Basics. Nevertheless, the basic barbed wire made by Joseph Glidden is still the fundamental wire used by ranchers.

There were about 700 wires in service at one time nationwide. Some were commercially made, a few were made by hand and a few others were only patent drawings.

The first patent drawing was by Lucien Smith. Whether his type of barbed wire is questionable, no samples have been discovered.

Collecting. From 1867 to 1900, more than 400 designs were patented. Altogether, there were about 500 types manufactured and patented.

A few are unusual in design, but most others are common and easy to find.

barbed wire collecting began around 1966 and similar to the vast majority of collectibles, it has waned from being a hot item.

During the years of barbed wire inception, the cattlemen in the West often had vicious quarrels over its use. They even cut the wire and pulled the posts.

This was due to cattle and horses cutting themselves on the fence.

Patents. Due to this resistance of wire and resulting downtrend in business, several modified types were patented. The new types were Rotatora and Yielders but they were limited in use because they were more expensive to make.

Among these new types was that of a manufacturer in Painesville, Ohio. It was named Yielding Barb and was manufactured in 1832.

Later, livestock learned to be cautious of the barbed wire. Therefore, ranchers who needed miles of wire often chose a cheaper wire.

Cost. Early wire generally cost $3-$4 per 18 inches. Due to competition, the price later dropped to $1-$2 for the same length of wire. The unusual wire was still more expensive.

Several books have been published on barbed wire. One lists 992 different types.

Collecting. It is next to impossible to acquire all the types that were made, especially because some were patented but never produced.

Recently people have begun to “reproduce” the wire, so beware of new samples.

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