of barbed wire
Joseph Farwell Glidden was born
in Charlestown, New Hampshire, on January 18,
1813, and raised in Clarendon, New York. He was a
school teacher until marrying in 1837, after
which he purchased a small farm in De Kalb,
Illinois. In 1843, his wife, daughter and two
sons all died. He remarried in 1851.
Glidden was at a county fair when he
observed a demonstration of a wooden rail with
sharp nails protruding along its sides, hanging
inside a smooth wire fence. That demonstration
inspired him to invent and patent a successful
barbed wire in the form we recognize today. He
fashioned barbs on a modified coffee bean
grinder, placed them at intervals along a smooth
wire, and twisted another wire around the first
to hold the barbs in a fixed position. On October
27, 1873, he filed for a patent, which was
granted in 1874.
The successful demonstration of
Glidden's new wire prompted at least 570 other
similar patents, which in turn led to a
three-year legal battle over whose wire came
first. Glidden was eventually declared the
original patent holder and given the right to be
called the "Father of Barbed Wire."
To manufacture his wire,
Glidden teamed up with Isaac L. Ellwood to form
the Barb Fence Company of De Kalb, Illinois.
In 1876, Glidden sold half of
his patent to Washburn & Moen Manufacturing
Company for $60,000 and royalties. He then turned
his energies to other business ventures,
including a 250,000-acre ranch in Texas, a
3,000-acre farm in Illinois, a hotel, a bank, and
a newspaper. By the time of his death he was one
of the richest men in the United States.
Joseph Glidden died in De Kalb
on October 9, 1906.
Glidden donated 63 acres of
his homestead for the Northern Illinois Normal
School, now Northern Illinois University. The
town of Glidden, Iowa, is named in his honor.
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