The History Of Barbed Wire

September 6, 2017 in Daily Bulletin

In a series on 50 things that made the modern economy Tim Harford wrote about barbed wire:

  • When barbed wire was patented in 1874 it was marketed as “the greatest discovery of the age” and “lighter than air, stronger than whiskey, cheaper than dust”.
  • Just six years after it was patented 423,000 kilometers of it – enough to circle the world ten times over – was produced.
  • Farmers had long tried to stake out claims to their property. But wood was too expensive, smooth wire was quickly trampled over by cattle, and thorn bush hedges took too long to grow.
  • Barbed wire allowed them to mark their territory – much to the consternation of the Native Americans – who called it the devil’s rope – and whose lands would sometimes be fenced off.
  • Cowboys who were used to cattle being able to graze freely across the landscape weren’t too happy either.
  • Rival farmers had disagreement and masked gangs took to cutting up fences and leaving threatening notes telling their owners not to rebuild them. People died.
  • Some would argue that the establishment of property rights created an incentive for farmers to invest in the land and help grow America into the largest economy in the world.

Read more on the BBC.