Barbed Wire Overview

Barbed Wire has been an integral and important part of the history of the west. It has provided many functions, which include physical barriers, historical information, and artistic interests. Over the years, wire has evolved from a single type to a wide variety of patents and variations.

Barbed wire was originally developed to allow farmers and ranchers an opportunity to divide their ranges into smaller pastures for controlled grazing and protecting their crops. As plots of land were fenced and barriers, created free range for grazing and cattle drives became extinct. Barriers were also created during wars with entanglement wire in attempt to stop the enemy. As recently as the Viet Nam war, new wires were being manufactured to assist in the soldiers' defense. Today this same type of wire is used on prisons and businesses to prevent individuals from exiting institutions or entering non-public areas. This type of wire was used to divide nations after World War II.

Beyond the changes in the western land development, wire has also provided an opportunity to research patent information. This information leads an individual to develop a geographical sense of where wire was first produced and the number of wires that have been manufactured over the years. Different types of wire were adaptable for unique locations and often patentees used a new style of wire as their "signature." Collecting wire introduces many challenges and opportunities to learn more about the industry of barbed wire.

Art Form
Many wires are quite unique in purpose and style. There are barbs that resemble spurs, stars with different numbers of points, flat plates with corners bent, and a variety of others. Barbed wire has been used in a variety of sculptures and designs. There are large wire balls, longhorn cattle, and cacti, which are more solid, stand-alone creations. There are also many shapes of states, boots, wire plaques and symbols made from barbed wire that are available for decorative purposes. Jewelry is yet another very creative use of wire.

Learning about barbed wire allows you to study the transition of our country and the world through a variety of changes. The opportunity to study barbed wire in depth creates an awareness of its uses and the availability of the unique kinds of wires. Being an involved collector provides additional access to many knowledgeable individuals, which with their special expertise, will add to your information bank.

Antique Barbed Wire Society: In the Beginning...

Who was the first collector of barbed wire? When did the barbed wire collecting start? Unfortunately there are not any definite answers to these questions. However, the establishment of the Texas Barbed Wire Collector's Association was the origin of the barbed wire collector clubs.

Forming an Organization
On November 28, 1965, "The Texas News" showed a film on TV about a roll of wire that had been found on the banks of the Trinity River below the Tarrant County Courthouse in Ft. Worth, Texas. Chuck Shytles called the station and identified the wire as Buffalo Wire patented by John C. Merrill. Other persons also called the station to identify the roll of barbed wire and the station put them in touch with each other. After several calls amongst themselves, a meeting was arranged on January 14, 1966, at the Arlington Texas State Bank. There were sixteen collectors present, one of which was Jack Glover. It was decided that a club be formed, and thus the Texas Barbed Wire Collector's Association came into being. Starting in 1966, annual conventions and shows were held every year with the first show being in Canyon, Texas. Membership ballooned to over 400 collectors in a short period of time. One of the major projects the association undertook was placing historical markers all over the state to commemorate barbed wire and individuals that were important in the history of barbed wire.

Starting in June of 1967, barbed wire magazines began being published including the "American Barbed Wire Journal" by Joe and Nelda January, and the "Barb Wire Times" by Brian Wolf. Soon other publications came into being including "The International Barbed Wire Gazette" in 1971, by Jack Glover, and "The Barbed Wire Collector" in 1983, by Charlie and Rosie Dalton. "The Barbed Wire Collector" is the only global barbed wire collector's magazine still being published.

It is presumed that those people who attended the first meeting in 1966, had already begun collecting barbed wire or had some interest in collecting before this time. Today there are thousands of barbed wire collectors all over the world. Even though the Texas Barbed Wire Collector's Association has ceased to exist, it was the impetus for existing barbed wire associations today.

Brief History of Barbed Wire

Ichabod Washburn from Massachusetts devised the method to produce drawn iron wire that became the origin of early wire fence and telegraph lines. Years later much of this fence would be armed with barbs by utilizing various types of hand-barbing tools.

First cattle drive of Texas cattle reached Sedalia, Missouri, and then proceeded by rail to New York. The eastern appetite for Texas beef had been whetted.

The Civil War interrupts further cattle shipments.

First barbed disclosure in a patent by Leonce Grassin-Baledans - France.

Homestead Act was passed - Pioneers moved westward and the need for cheap reliable fencing became urgent.

Civil War ends and the mass migration west intensifies demand for fencing.

First barbed wire patent by Louis Jannin - France.

First U.S. barbed wire patent for livestock fencing by Lucien Smith - Ohio.

First U.S. patent for sheet-metal barb (rowel form) by William Hunt - New York.

First ribbon wire patent by Michael Kelly - New York.

First time the term "barb" is used in fence patent reference by Lyman Judson - New York.

Santa Fe Railroad reaches Newton, Kansas, to meet the cattle trail from Texas.

Branch railroad reaches Wichita, Kansas, shortening the driven trail.

First barbed wooden fencing strip produced by Henry Rose - Illinois.

Meeting of Joseph Glidden, Isaac Ellwood, and Jacob Haish at the Dekalb, Illinois, state fair, observing the Henry Rose fence display, and agreeing to embark on their own inventions to improve fencing.

Most successful barbed wire patent by Joseph Glidden - Later known as "The Winner" after the Supreme Court decision of 1892.

Beginning of years of patent litigation over rights of ownership of the invention of barbed wire.

First barbed wire company was formed by Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood - Forerunner of United States Steel - 1907.

First hand-applied barb patent to arm existing smooth wire fences by Charles Kennedy - Illinois.

First barbed wire machine patented by Joseph Glidden & Phineas Vaughan - Illinois.

First hand-barbing tool patented by Dobbs & Booth - Iowa. The tool was used to arm existing smooth wire fences.

Dramatic demonstration of barbed wire in San Antonio, Texas, by John "Bet-A-Million" Gates, successfully proving to Texas cattlemen the effectiveness of barbed wire.

First barbed wire net fence patented by Alexander Decker - Illinois.

Large range war over boundaries of fencing that involved Billy the Kid in the Lincoln County Dispute - New Mexico.

First barbed fence-warning device patented by Thomas Shuman - Iowa.

The word "barbwire" became the generally acceptable spoken word for barbed wire.

First half-million pounds of barbwire produced and sold in DeKalb, Illinois.

First major worldwide users of barbwire were the many railroads' right-of-ways.

First galvanized barbwire produced.

World's longest barbwire fence erected, 2,400 miles across Australia, and was named the "Dingo Fence".

First barbed cattle guard patented by John Gilbert - Illinois.

First use of barbwire as electrical conductor lightening ground on electric transmission lines patented by Jonathan Vail - New York.

Beginning period when rural barbwire fencing gained usage as telephone lines.

The Glidden patent was declared "The Winner" by the Supreme Court ruling on February 29, 1892. The court's ruling had far-reaching impact on future patent laws that continue to this day.

Cuba saw the first use of regular farm-fence barbwire as a defensive medium by the Spanish during the Spanish-American War.

Barbwire was used in prisoner compounds during the Boer War.

Barbwire was used as battlefield entanglements during the Russia-Japanese War.

Barbwire used as “concertina” war wire in European campaign during World War I.

First use of barbwire against submarines – Japan sunk carloads in their harbors to hinder submarine passage.

First electric barbwire fence patented by Raymond Doerr – Michigan.

First barbed wire collectors association was formed – Texas.

First national barbed wire museum was established – La Crosse, Kansas.

Last barbwire patent of the 20th century by P.H. White – Tennessee.

The Antique Barbed Wire Society is organized.

Barbed Wire Info

Antique Barbed Wire
Generally referred to as wire manufactured before 1925.

Antique Barbed Wire Society
A group of individuals committed to collecting, preserving, exhibiting and interpreting the historical heritage of barbed wire and related items, and enlisting interest and support for an on-going organization into the next century.

To determine the value of barbed wire, planter wire, fencing tools, and wire related items by the individual piece or collection. Documents will include an individual list of items, a value guide – where applicable, and information about any necessary IRS forms.

Barb Applier
Hand tool used to arm fence strands with barbs on usually older smooth wire.

Barbed Wire/Barbwire
Strands or ribbons of wire with attached barbs that are used as fencing for the purpose of containment and/or to prevent trespass.

Barbed Wire Association
A group or organization of barbed wire collectors.

Barbed Wire Club
A group or organization of barbed wire collectors.

Barbed Wire Hall of Fame

●To recognize those individuals who maintain and promote the barbed wire hobby.

●Sponsored by the Antique Barbed Wire Society and assisted by the Symposium.

●Established in 1974 by the Wichita Barbed Wire Collector's Association

Barbed Wire Related Items

Pin backs, wire canes, medals, coins, tokens, paper items, letter openers, fence posts, stays, fence tops, staples, planter wire, tools, stamps depicting barbed wire, books, and barbed wire liniment bottles/tins are some examples of related items that enhance the barbed wire hobby.

Barbed Wire Show
Where groups of collectors and antique dealers gather to display their collections to buy, sell, and trade wire and related items.

Concertina Wire
Masses of military wire strung out to create barriers.

The accepted measurement for collection barbed wire is an 18” piece with the barbs being equal distance from each end. Specimens should not be less than 18”. Due to the features of some pieces it may be necessary to cut a longer length.

Devil’s Rope Museum, McLean, Texas

Dedicated to preserving the history of barbed wire and the displaying of artifacts

Texas Route 66 Museum

The Kansas limestone rock quarry display is unusual as it shows the tools and procedure used in cutting rock posts for fence use

War wire exhibit

Fence making devices

Harold Hagemeier research library

Check-row planter

Evolution of the American cowboy exhibit

Electric Fence
Normally a single line wire carrying an electrical charge that will “shock” the intruder. This fence includes a charger, grounding rod, insulators, and can be attached to existing posts or stakes. Electrified top lines of barbed wire fences with proper insulators have been successful.

Entanglement Wire
Masses of military wire strung out to create barriers.

Fence Post
Set in the ground to provide vertical support for wire fencing and can be wood, vinyl, steel, concrete or other materials.

Fence Tool
Implement used to assist in building fence, splicing wire, cutting wire, and other operations in fence building.

Fence Tops
A decorative ornament that is on the top of a stay or post.

Freak Wire
Occurred when quality control was absent at the wire factory and was usually caused by worn shears, dies, machinery malfunctions, and when making splices.

“Go Withs”
Pin backs, wire canes, medals, coins, tokens, paper items, letter openers, fence posts, stays, fence tops, staples, planter wire, tools, stamps depicting barbed wire, books, and barbed wire liniment bottles/tins are some examples of “go withs” that enhance the barbed wire hobby.

Horse Wire
Any barbless wire used for fencing that is intended not to harm horses

Humane Wire
Wires with shorter, movable, or less vicious barbs so livestock wouldn’t be injured.

Irregular Wire
Wire with factory errors such as extra barbs, badly formed barbs, or line wire variations.

Kansas Barbed Wire Museum

Located in LaCrosse, Kansas – “Barbed Wire Capital of the World”

Only museum in the world devoted solely to the history and legend of what is often referred to as the “Devil’s Rope”

Barbed Wire Hall of Fame

Ladies Barbed Wire Hall of Honor

Diorama of early barbed wire use

Ervin Deines Gallery of antique fencing tools

Don Taylor library

Military wire

Barbed wire liniment bottles/tins

Gary Spilger barbed wire collection with over 2,100 pieces

Lee and Ruby Shank Memorial Theatre

Ladies Barbed Wire Hall of Honor

To recognize the ladies who have actively participated in the barbed wire collecting hobby

Sponsored by The Symposium and the New Mexico Barbed Wire Collector’s Association

Established in 1999

Left Hand Twist

Barbed wire strands or barbs twisted in a counter clockwise direction.

The accepted measurement for collection barbed wire is an 18” piece with the barbs being equal distance from each end. Specimens should not be less than 18”. Due to the features of some pieces it may be necessary to cut a longer length.

Military Wire
Vicious barbed wire with extraordinary impaling features intended to restrain, contain, and inflict disabling harm on opposing troops.

Moonshine Wire
Patented wire made without consent or license of the patent owner. Also any wire produced that was never patented.

Net Wire
The advantage of this type of fencing is to control smaller game, animals, and birds. Ranged in height from a few inches to more than six feet.

Ornamental Wire
A wire without barbs that is of some ornate form. It is often used around cemeteries or special areas.

A monopoly granted by the U.S. Patent Office to an individual for his/her invention. In the early 1800s the patent life was 14 years. It was later extended to 17 years, while today it is 20 years from the date of application.

Planter Wire
A generic term used to describe all forms and materials of check-row, check-lines, and their related knots. The accepted length for collection planter wire is an 18” piece with the knot being equal distance from end of the wire.

Punch Press
Continuous metal strap with various designs stamped out. Used for decorative fencing and stays.

Rare Tool
A tool is considered rare when it is extremely difficult to obtain because of limited availability.

Rare Wire
A wire is considered rare when it is extremely difficult to obtain because of limited availability.

Re-Issue Patent
A later version of a patent where ownership may be assigned to others, or the text is expanded, or figures are clarified, or an element is separated for exclusive coverage. The duration of the re-issue patent is for whatever time remains of the original patent. The original patent is surrendered.

Right Hand Twist
Barbed wire strands or barbs twisted in a clockwise direction.

Sheet Metal Barbs/Wire
Barbs or wire stamped out of metal rather than being continuous rolled.

Shorty Wires
A short piece of wire that is usually 4 ½” long and displayed in shorty collections.

Signal Plate
A means of wire fencing developed to make a fence more visible to livestock. Sometimes called a warning plate.

A joining of two pieces of wire. Can be either factory made or field made.

Nails, clips, or wire used to secure fence wire to posts.

State Barbed Wire Association

California Barbed Wire Collectors Association

Colorado Wire Collectors Association

Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association, Inc.

Nebraska Barbed Wire Collectors Association

Stays Vertically installed wire, rod, ribbon, or slat between two posts for the purpose of keeping the fence wire separated and tight.

Fence tool developed to stretch and tighten wire when building or repairing a fence.

Super Show
The Super Show was established to help keep the hobby of collecting wire, wire tools, and other related items viable and to allow continued fellowship among all collectors. The Super Show was intended to bring together collectors that normally only attend one show a year.

Metal plates attached to new rolls of wire that give the manufacturers name plus other information.

“The Barbed Wire Collector”
The global publication for the barbed wire collecting hobby, since 1983.

The Symposium
A meeting of members of all wire associations and interested persons to discuss ideas, come to a consensus of opinions, and publish ideas and suggestions for preserving and promoting the collecting of barbed wire, wire tools, and related items.
Held in October of each year.

A mechanical device placed at a post or in the fence strands to twist or wind the wire to original tension. The device is left in position in the fence.

Top Runner Wire
The top strand of a wire fence.

Value Guides
The accepted price list for barbed wire, planter wire, fencing tools, staples, and fence posts/tops.

A partial change or deviation from the original patent.

Warning Plate
A means of wire fencing developed to make a fence more visible to livestock. Sometimes called a signal plate.

Water Gap Wire
Used as the top wire stretching across a small gully or arroyo. After a heavy rain or flood, the lower portion of the fence may wash out. The fence can then be easily re-constructed to the water gap wire.

Wire Gauge
A device that measures the size of a cross-section of round wire – The accepted American Standard Wire Gauge utilizes Washburn and Moen specifications from 1833.

Being a Collector

Barbed Wire

One of the earliest patented wires was by W.H. Meriwether of New Braunfels, Texas, in November 1853. This was not a barbed wire, but it was used for fencing. Barbed wire had it’s beginning in the late 1860s and early 1870s. Since this time, there have been over 500 barbed wire patents granted with many variations to these patents.

Since the wide spread use of wire fences in the late 1800’s, many types of wire besides barbed wire have been used for fencing. Some of these include barbless ribbon wire, ornamental fence wire, punch strap metal wire, planter wire, and just about anything else an ingenious farmer or rancher could come up with.

Starting a Collection

The hobby of wire collecting can be a very enjoyable pastime for the beginner as well as the seasoned collector. Several things need to be considered when starting a collection.

One of the necessary items needed when starting collection is the currently accepted barbed wire identification handbook and a value guide price list.

Membership in the Antique Barbed Wire Society and subscribing to “The Barbed Wire Collector” magazine will keep you abreast of the latest happenings in the hobby.

There are also many state barbed wire organizations that publish newsletters and sponsor yearly barbed wire trade shows.

Obtaining a mailing list of barbed wire collectors and trading through the mail can provide a good opportunity to build a collection.

When trading wire through the mail, make certain that a piece of wire is never intentionally misrepresented, always give the buyer the option of returning a wire within a reasonable length of time, and always reserve that same right for yourself. Be prompt with any correspondence and sending any wire that has been ordered.

Email and ebay are also excellent methods of obtaining more wire.

Another method of starting a collection is purchasing many of the common wires. Many collectors have these wires in bundles that can be obtained for a reduced price. This is an excellent way to build a collection quickly.

Hunting the Wire

An excellent method of finding wire is by traveling into the country and visiting with some of the local farmers and ranchers. Ask them for directions to old dumping sites and any downed fences that may hold that rare wire every new collector dreams of finding. Many farmers and ranchers will take the time to help a new collector look for wire on their land. Individuals must respect another person’s property. The following are suggested courtesies: Do not venture onto private land without obtaining permission from the landowner. Never cut wire out of an existing fence without permission. Most landowners will let a collector cut out a piece of wire if it is re-stretched and replaced with new wire. Never destroy any property.

Preparing Wire for Trading

This step is very important, as other collectors will be more willing to trade if they know they are getting good wire in return. Always make sure the wire is cut at least 18" long. Any wire may be cut ¼” to ½” longer but cutting a piece shorter can dramatically decrease the value.

Cut all wire with the barbs spaced evenly from each end. A small amount of wire will be wasted but the end result will be a much better wire for trading.

Always cut out broken or bad barbs and broken or badly rusted line wires. Straighten all wire by hand. This can be accomplished by using a pair of gloves and a few minutes of time.

Be certain of the wire’s identification. If there is a question as to what a wire actually is, other collectors will gladly help out with the identification process.

Know the Wires

Studying the wire identification book and learning to recognize the different wires is a benefit to both new and old collectors alike. This will help when looking at wires that another collector may inadvertently misrepresent. If a new collector has a concern about a particular wire, consulting with experienced and reputable collectors is an excellent method of alleviating any questions.

Deciding What to Collect

Most barbed wire collectors are interested in collecting patented wire, moonshine wire, rare wires, ornamental wires, fence stays, fence tops, staples, movie set wire, variations, splices, and factory variations. Collecting different types of wires makes a collection more interesting.

Fencing Tools

Another aspect of the wire hobby is the collecting of fencing tools. These tools include everything from the first crude blacksmith stretchers to some very compact, innovative, combination fencing tools. Fence stretchers, pliers, hammers, staple pullers, twisters, splicers, grippers, cutters, tighteners, and barb applying tools are but a few of the collectible fencing tools.

Related Collectibles

As with any other type of collecting, there are several other items – “go withs” – that fit in very well with the barbed wire collecting hobby: planter wire, railroad date nails, fence posts, postage stamps depicting barbed wire, barbed wire canes, barbed wire liniment bottles and tins, salesman samples, paper items, books, and many other items.


The barbed wire collecting hobby offers a wide variety of collectible items that appeal to many individuals. The collecting and preserving of our nations history can be an educational, enjoyable, and memorable experience.

Fence Cutting

During the drought in the summer and fall of 1883, fence cutting became a real problem in Texas. Some farmers and ranchers brought in barbed wire to fence their land. Cattlemen who did not own land wanted an open range as the fences made it difficult to find water and grass necessary for their herds of cattle. This conflict resulted in many shootings and a lot of destroyed fences.

Most of the ranchers owned or leased the land they fenced. At times large ranchers fenced in farms and other small ranches, as well as blocking public roads and cutting off access to schools and churches. These extreme fencing situations caused indiscriminate fence cutting and attracted a rough group of individuals who were hired for the purpose of cutting fencing.

Fence cutting was reported from more than half of the Texas counties. The most common area extended north and south through the center of the state. Most of the cutting was done at night by armed bands, some of which were hired by open-range ranchers. In some cases, the pastures of the fencers were burned. Some of the fencers hired guards to protect their fence often resulting in bloodshed.

Texas newspapers and the general public condemned fence cutting but few attempts were made to settle the disputes. Finally, at Henrietta, Texas, spokesmen for the fence cutters met with Clay County ranchers. The two groups agreed that fence cutting would stop and that fences would be removed from across public roads and from around land not owned or leased by the fence builders. It was also agreed that gates would be provided for public use.

By the fall of 1883, it was estimated that fence cutting had cost over twenty million dollars and more than one million dollars in Brown County alone. It was estimated that tax values had declined over 30 million dollars because the conflicts discouraged farming and frightened settlers away. The Texas government tended to ignore the fence cutting issue. However, on October 15, 1883, Governor John Ireland called a special session of the legislature to meet on January 8, 1884, to deal with the problem. After a deluge of petitions and heated debates, the legislature made fence cutting and pasture burning a felony, punishable by one to five years in prison. The fencing of public lands or lands belonging to others without permission was made a misdemeanor and the fence-builders were required to remove the fences within six months. Ranchers or other individuals that built fences across public roads were required to provide gates every three miles and to keep the gates in good repair. These penalties ended most of the fence cutting, although sporadic outbreaks of fence cutting continued for the rest of the decade. .