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Joseph Glidden

inventor of barbed wire

Joseph Glidden

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.

diagram of Glidden's wire

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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This page was last updated on June 22, 2017.