Sunday, March 26, 2017

Haish Says He Is The Oldest

The below article was printed in the June 12, 1915, edition of the Daily Chronicle:

Haish Says He Is The Oldest
Brings Down Documents In Proof of His Statement to Chronicle
- - -
Came to DeKalb in 1853
- - -
Makes the Distinction That He Was the First One Now Living to Settle in the Corporation and Not in Township Outside

Jacob Haish was in this morning to set our minds at rest as to who was the oldest "residenter" of DeKalb still in existence here. Mr. Haish claims the honor for himself and has the documents to prove it.

Jacob Haish photo courtesy of
Regional History Center, Northern Illinois University
He says that he is the first settler of the tract at present inside the corporate limits of DeKalb, who is still living. He came here in September of 1853. There were others who lived outside the city limits on farms but if they moved to DeKalb they did it many years later.

To prove his statement Mr. Haish had the deed to his first piece of property he owned in this city, the lot on South First street south of the Northwestern tracks on the east side of the street. 

He bought this, he says, in 1858, but did not have the money to pay for it and was not given his deed until the following year. The deed bears the date of December 1854. 

A couple of years afterward, about 1855, he says a lot of other people came here, Robert Newitt, the Garners, the Rolfes, Bristows, Bradts, Brooks, Sweets and others.

Mr. Haish entertained us for some time this morning telling about the early days. He told how he left home in Pennsylvania in the late forties with prospecting parties to come west and look over the country here. Their destination was Naperville and he spent some months in DuPage County ...

Then he moved on again to Kaneville and then he got on a farm down in the "Rooster" church district. Here he was taken sick and afterwards moved back to Kaneville for a short time where he worked at his trade. One day he decided to come a little farther west and he walked from Kaneville to what is now Maple Park.

Just as he trudged into this village along came a little engine dragging two flat cars and making awfully hard work of it. 

"Where are you going?" queried young Jacob.

"Down to the end of the line," said the engine.

"Can I go to Buena Vista with you?" asked the young pilgrim.

"Sure," said the good natured engineman and Jacob hopped aboard.

When he came to the end of the road, about where Fourth street now is the train had to stop and the young pioneer asked the engineer, "Where's Buena Vista?"

"This is it," said the engineer pointing down the street to where there a couple of little buildings and this was Jacob Haish's advent into DeKalb. Buena Vista, for the benefit of those who don't know, was the old name for this village.

There was little of a village here when Mr. Haish arrived. Dr. Basil had a little shack of a store where Hiland's store now is, and Goodell had a general store where the Chronicle is now located. There was a blacksmith shop where the Glidden house now is and that was about all the business houses there were.

Living on farms near the city at this time were Joseph Glidden, William Plank, Clark Barber and others whose names are enrolled in the list of our early settlers but they were not in the village, which is the honor Mr. Haish contends for.

Along in 1854 a Mr. Nichols started a lumber yard here and shortly afterwards a Mr. Page also started one. After that the growth of the little village was steady and rapid, and in all of its growth the personality of Mr. Haish was always prominent.

The Chronicle would be glad to hear from others of the old timers.
Article provided by the Joiner History Room

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Haish requests features for DeKalb courthouse

In the early 1900s, Jacob Haish and many other DeKalb notables offered ideas and even monetary pledges to bring a new courthouse to DeKalb. Sycamore had been home to the courthouse for years, but the city of DeKalb thought it should host a larger building to fit the growing county's needs.

Below is an image and excerpt that Haish used to "sell" his ideas for a DeKalb courthouse. In the end, Sycamore "won" and a new courthouse opened in 1905 on State Street, where it still stands today.
Click image to enlarge.

New Courthouse To Be Built at DeKalb
Published in the DeKalb Advertiser on Nov. 3, 1903

"A few of the distinguishing features of the Court House, designated for DeKalb, DeKalb County, Illinois, as desired and requested by Mr. Jacob Haish:

The inside of the dome will be arranged to contain the names and busts of the pioneers of the county. The officers and soldiers of the Civil War from the county will have a niche, and engraved emblems or other such suitable memorial as may be suggested by those interested. Receptacles for photographs and relics will have chosen places expressly prepared for them. The emblems adorning the structure will represent the Arts, Sciences, Music, Agriculture, Mechanics and other products of the county.

There will be two main entrances and eight large columns will present their imposing presence at each entrance, together with life size figures of Generals Dustin and Dutton, one at each entrance. Each column will represent a township with its name inscribed thereon, while the sculptured work would be engraved DeKalb and Sycamore thus giving representation to each one of the original eighteen townships.

It is intended to have copies of the above picture at all the polling places as nearly as possible and they can be had at any time at the Barb City Bank if any should fail to secure them before." 

Article and image courtesy of Northern Illinois University Archives & Regional History Center

Sunday, February 19, 2017


Printed in the Feb. 19, 1926, edition of the DeKalb Daily Chronicle:

"Grand Old Man" of DeKalb Numbered His Friends in Every Walk of Life.

Genuine sorrow entered the hearts of hundreds of residents of this city and the surrounding community with the death of Jacob Haish. No resident of this city ever had more friends in every walk of life than did Mr. Haish. When Mrs. Haish died a few years ago, the entire community sorrowed with the grieved helpmate who was left, as he termed it, alone in the world. That same sorrow, even more profound, is being felt today with the death of "DeKalb's Grand Old Man." 

It seems but a short time since he made his daily visit to the Haish State bank, where he would sit contentedly in his easy rocker and greet friends who never failed to stop and have a word of greeting with him. Business men, in a hurry, would spare a few moments to chat with him. His personality and cheerful disposition was magnetic in its power. Shop workers, just free from work and still in their greasy clothes, stopping at the bank to make the savings account deposit or pay their rent, would stop to greet Mr. Haish. To all he presented the same cheerful smile and happy word of greeting. Truly, his friends are numbered in every walk of life.

Mr. Haish was a part of DeKalb. He helped build this city as much or even more than any other resident. When his shops were in operation he furnished employment for many men and he paid them good wages. His workers were not the disgruntled type and he aided materially in giving to DeKalb a citizenry that would be a credit to any community. Many families are residents of DeKalb today only through the work of Mr. Haish. The establishment of his enterprises in this city urged other business connections to be formed.

Article provided by the Joiner History Room.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Requiem the Haish House

Photo of Haish mansion demolition is part of Steve Bigolin's collection | Photo by Jessi LaRue
"Requiem the Haish House"
By Homer Hall ("Uncle Silas")
Printed in the Daily Chronicle, Sept. 21, 1961
Ah well, at last you've got your way
We can no hope enjoy
To save some old or well loved thing
When PROGRESS says "destroy"
Torn down the study old stone walls
Now rubble fills the space,
An heirloom of the city's gone
No one can e'er replace
Gone frescoes on high ceilinged walls,
The carved and polished paneling,
Gone with the vanished years.
What social life streamed thru those rooms,
What distant strangers came
To see the town whose product spread
World wide to give us fame.
A sneer to those old fogies all,
(Their ranks are thinning fast)
Who wished to save for future years
Some relic of the past.
Who thought some value still may lie
With the old and quaint.
Such obstacles to modern ways
Would irritate a saint.
And Jacob Haish who helped to build
Our town to what it is,
Whose benefactions still abound --
How many gifts were his?
Who built the mansion that he loved,
(Though quaint it was he knew)
Would he be pleased to see it fall
Beneath the wreckers' crew?
Ah well, we'll let New England keep
Historic house and scene,
The West preserve each hallowed hut
Deadwood to Abilene.
DeKalb wants only modern stuff,
We're on the ball, no fear
That visitors can ever say
That we're old fashioned here. 
Photos of demolition provided by Steve Bigolin

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Jacob Haish and John "Bet-A-Million" Gates

John Warne Gates, also known as John "Bet-A-Million" Gates, was considered a pioneer promoter of barbed wire. He had many dealings not only in Texas, where he sold wire for some time, but also in DeKalb, where he aimed to work with Haish while also fighting against his former employer, Isaac Ellwood.

Yvonne Johnson, of Sycamore, encouraged me to read the book "Bet A Million! The Story of John W. Gates," by Lloyd Wendy and Herman Kogan, because of Gates' ties to DeKalb's barbed wire empire and Haish's involvement in the story. 

Below are excerpts from the book which reference Haish.

" the fall of 1872, three men of De Kalb in Illinois went to a county fair at the northern end of town.* Among the exhibits was a sixteen-foot strip of wood with steel barbs in it. It was advertised as a "sure thing to keep your cows in."
(* On the site where the Northern State Teachers College now stands.)

The three interested spectators were Joseph F. Glidden, a chin-whiskered farmer; Jacob Haish, a local carpenter who had been selling Osage orange seeds to farmers who hoped to grow thorn hedges; and Colonel Isaac Ellwood, an ex-auctioneer who had come to De Kalb in 1855 to open a hardware store after a futile attempt to find gold in California.

The three stared at the strip of wood and agreed that by putting steel barbs on strands of wire an effective device might be produced. Each decided to work independently. Glidden was the first of the three to invent a method of making the barbs. In the summer of 1873, Ellwood and his wife drove to the Glidden farm where they found Glidden industriously turning the crank of an old coffee grinder. From the coffee grinder were dropping wire barbs.

Then Glidden slid the barbs onto a sixteen-foot length of greased wire, spacing them and clamping them tight. Proudly, he showed Ellwood how he had rigged the coffee grinder into a barbed-wire producer and then he took his visitors to a grindstone he had converted into a twister. He fastened two strands of wire, one barbed, the other unbarbed, to a tree, tied the other ends to the grinder and then he turned the handle to twist the strands tightly together. These double strands, said he, not only would keep the barbs in place, but would keep the fence taut.

"You've got the answer!" shouted Ellwood. "Let's talk business."

Glidden, an affable fellow, sold Ellwood half interest in his invention for $265. Ellwood would supply the wire, arrange for a factory in De Kalb, and handle the sales. Glidden secured his patent in October 1873, and in six months Ellwood organized a company with a factory on De Kalb's Main Street. Six boys were hired to climb trees around the building. They hauled up lengths of wire which were stretched from the trees to the ground and they happily worked ten hours a day stringing the barbs which were later clamped into place by older workmen.

Sales boomed, especially in the Illinois territory. Ellwood's increased orders for wire stimulated the curiosity of Charles G. Washburn and Philip W. Moen, who were the country's largest wiremakers with a huge plant at Worcester, Mass. Washburn hurried to DeKalb and what he saw instantly inspired him to buy the Ellwood-Glidden plant.

Ellwood refused to sell, but Glidden disposed of his interests late in 1874 for $60,000 and lifetime royalties. By an arrangement, Washburn and Moen would supply the barbed-wire needs of the eastern part of the country and Ellwood would handle the western sections. A clamor arose from other independent manufacturers, including Haish, who had developed a system of his own; the din would not be stilled for several years, but meanwhile Ellwood and his associates continued to turn out miles of barbed wire. They dispatched emissaries to the plains of Texas and other cattle country, and they hired salesmen to talk quickly and earnestly to farmers, cattlemen and railroad executives..."

- - -

"Ever since 1875, after they had bought out the interests of Joseph Glidden, Ellwood and the Washburn-Moen bosses had investigated all 394 existing wire patents, some dating back to pre-Civil War days, and purchased rights to 220 they considered valuable and essential to their expansion. 

Among those who refused to sell, however, was old Jacob Haish of De Kalb, who was earning ample profits from his own type of barbed wire. Ellwood and his Eastern associates opened battle against him. At the time Gates was selling enormous quantities of wire in Texas at fantastic prices, price cutting by Ellwood in the North had brought the wire market to ruinous lows. Some bankrupt manufacturers sold out to Ellwood and the Washburn-Moen firm. Others retreated to obscure spots and moonshined their products when and where they could evade process servers.

Only Haish, stolid and stubborn, was rich enough to fight back in the newspapers, the law courts and the markets. He sent out armies of agents to paste his colored 24-sheets on the sides of country barns and mailed his Barb Fence Regulator free to all who asked for it. His newspaper was packed with attacks on "The Monopoly," raucous ads and religious exhortations. Most of the material was written by Haish himself. One of his satiric ditties, "Der Monopoly Barb Fence Drummer," was popular with the traveling salesmen representing the antimonopoly manufacturers. It went:
Who puts up at der best hotel
Und takes his oysters on der shell,
Und mit der frauleins cuts a shwell?
Der monopoly barb fence drummer!

Who goes around ven I's pen oudt,
Drinks up my peer, eats mine kraut,
Und kiss Katrina on her mout?
Der monopoly barb fence drummer!
Convinced that he and not Ellwood or his partners owned the authentic barbed-wire patent, Haish also published and sent to his customers this warning:
It has come to my knowledge that certain parties interested in selling Glidden barb are using undue and unlawful means, by threats, intimidations, and otherwise to deter purchasers from buying the Barbed Wire manufactured by us --- the "S Barb." Be it known therefore that my agents are instructed to keep a record of all such transactions ... to be kept on file until such time as the undersigned shall deem proper, when suit will be instituted against all such parties for falsifying, misrepresentation and other misdemeanors.
Ellwood fought back with suits for injunctions in a dozen courts and also published a newspaper, The Glidden Barb Fence Journal, in which he vied with Haish in the name-calling contest. He wrote, misspellings and all:
They have sent circulars broadcast that we dare not come to trial. They have called us swindlers, liars, monopolists, and all kinds of low and foul names, such as only procede from the mouths of men who have no honorable means of defense. The country has been flooded with there vile circulars and they only show to an intelligent public the most infamous scheme to bolster up an unlawfull manufacture and use an inferior quality of barbed wire, that they may be compared to the mushroom stock companies that manufacture it!
The price cutting and underselling continued, except in Texas. Washburn and Moen, in unison with Ellwood, piled lawsuit on lawsuit. In December 1880, Judge Henry William Blodgett resolved many of the issues in his famous decision in the United States District Court of Northern Illinois. He ruled in favor of Ellwood and his friends and against Haish.

In the decision, Judge Blodgett found that 220 patents collected by Ellwood's group thoroughly covered and protected the manufacture of barbed wire in all its known forms. Insisting that other makers of wire must pay royalties to the Ellwood combine, he credited the plaintiffs with popularizing barbed wire in many agricultural areas. "Tested by the rule of utility, and utility is suggestive of originality," wrote the judge, "the record abundantly shows that the device in question has been accepted by the public to an extent which has hardly heretofore followed most successful inventions. Its utility must be conceded a fact. From what has already been developed, it is clear that it has made possible the cultivation of the extensive prairies of the West, the pampas of Brazil and the steppes of Russia."

The important decision was published in full in the Chicago Inter-Ocean and the jubilant Ellwood bought 22,000 copies for distribution throughout the country, along with the warning that all unlicensed manufacture of barbed wire must cease at once. In the Chicago Industrial World, the ruling was described as creating a "profound sensation throughout the country and is the topic of conversation on streetcars, in hotels, business houses and, in fact, wherever men congregate." The Chicago Tribune estimated that the decision would increase Ellwood's royalties, at one-half cent a pound, by $10,000 a day, or some $3,000,000 a year.

Suggesting darkly that Ellwood and Judge Blodgett had been unduly friendly while the case was pending, Haish sent out word he was appealing to the United States Supreme Court. He urged all the independents not to pay a penny in royalties to Ellwood. But many frightened operators yielded and applied for licenses."

- - -

"Thumbing his nose at process servers, Gates planned new maneuvers and new thrusts into the monopolistic fief of Ellwood, Washburn and Moen or the territories of any rebels who dared oppose him. 

Incessantly he sought to convince the moonshiners to combine. 

"I wanna put together the companies," he declared. "We're cuttin' each other and Ike Ellwood is gettin' rich. We oughta put the companies together, like the big men in the country are doin', like Morgan and Vanderbilt and Hill and the rest."

... But the other moonshiners were not yet ready for a bold program of ruination of the Ellwood-Washburn-Moen combine, they told Gates. Several advised him to consult Haish, still believed to be, as an elder of the industry, one of the strongest anti-Ellwood rebels. If he joined in a syndicate to fight Ellwood in and out of the law courts, they implied, they would favor Gates's idea.

Gates agreed to see Haish at De Kalb ...

But when Gates reached De Kalb, he found a dispirited, unenthusiastic man. The once-defiant German wearily pointed out that Ellwood and his friends were stronger and were increasing their control of patents. A showdown fight would be a disaster for him and for Gates. He himself had surrendered --- or so he said. He had applied for a permit, sighed Haish, and was going to yield to Ellwood's combine, pay royalties and manufacture licensed wire.

The weak gesture irritated Gates, but he was only slightly discouraged. He was intent on ruining Ellwood or forcing him into his combine and if old Jake Haish was too frightened to act, then young John Gates would find others less reluctant to take a chance and with them bring about a total victory. He was angry with Haish, but patiently so, for Haish seemed old and tired and beaten. Gates would have been less charitable and understanding had he known that old Jake, as was disclosed several years later when his attorneys sued him for fees, had made a secret agreement with Ellwood by which he would take out a license but pay not a penny in royalties."

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Haish Historical Marker Needs Funding

A local group is working toward creating a permanent and "visible legacy" in honor of barbed wire baron Jacob Haish.

DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, or DAAHA, is raising funds to place a historical marker outside of the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak Street. The marker will detail Haish's life and honor his many contributions to DeKalb. 

The DeKalb Public Library board recently approved the location of the marker, which will be placed just outside the original entrance to the library, or as some know it, the entrance to the Haish Memorial Library. Haish's will left $150,000 to the city for the construction of the library, which was completed in 1930.
A photo-shopped image shows where the Jacob Haish historical marker will be placed at the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak Street. | Image provided by Bob Myers
With library approval and a proposed text already written with help from Haish family descendant Jeff Marshall, just one more crucial element is needed: the funds to pay for the marker.

The total cost of the marker is estimated at $4,200, said Larry Mix, member of the DAAHA historical marker subcommittee. Just $500 has been raised as of January, and in order to install the marker by their goal of June of this year, the majority of funds will need to be raised by April, Mix said.

Mix hopes both relatives and fans of Haish's story will donate and help preserve the history of a man who did so much for not only the city of DeKalb, but much of the world, because of his barbed wire and farming implement creations.

"Having this marker [outside of the library] is a great opportunity," Mix said. "So many people walk in and out, and may not know who Jacob Haish was. I really think people would be interested to know why he was so important."


Tax deductible donations may be made to DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association (DAAHA), and mailed to 111 South 2nd St., DeKalb IL 60115. Donations should be marked “Haish Marker.” 

For more information on DAAHA visit

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Below is the proposed text for the marker, which is pending approval by the Illinois State Historical Society.

Jacob Haish
(1826 – 1926)
Known for his inventive genius, eccentric personality and generous philanthropy, Jacob Haish is perhaps most remembered as an inventor of barbed wire.  Born in Germany, he immigrated to this country in 1832 and came to DeKalb County in the 1840’s.
As a lumber merchant and builder, Haish learned about the West’s need for cheap, durable fencing to safeguard against livestock that roamed freely, destroying crops.  At the DeKalb County Fair in 1873 he noticed a patented wooden fence design with sharp metal barbs. From this, Haish got the idea to make wire barbs and place them on wire that could be stretched between fence posts.   A patent was later issued August 31, 1875 on Haish’s design, called “S” barbed wire.
Haish started manufacturing S barbed wire in 1874 and in 1881 he erected a two-story factory where one hundred men produced thirty tons of barbed wire a day, later using automatic machinery to manufacture the wire.  Other ventures included manufacturing of woven fencing, manure spreaders, cream separators and other farm implements.
Between 1892 and 1895 Haish partnered with his barbed wire rivals Isaac Ellwood and Joseph Glidden to bring the Northern Illinois State Normal School to DeKalb, donating $14,000 for the school’s library. 
Haish’s will directed much of his estate to the betterment of the community he loved, including $150,000 for the construction of the DeKalb Public (Haish Memorial) Library.  The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Sponsored by DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association ( and Illinois State Historical Society. June 2017

Friday, December 30, 2016

Looking forward to 2017

As this year comes to a close, I wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to read this blog, leave a comment, or share a document with me.

When I started this blog in April of this year, I was not sure that I'd find a lot of people who wanted to read about this particular part of DeKalb's history. I also wasn't sure if they'd be interested in reading so much about just one man -- Mr. Jacob Haish. But you've proved me wrong, and I am so grateful for that. 

I have been honored to learn these stories, to interview some of you, and to "meet" the rest of you via email and Facebook. I love knowing that there's a community of people who love this history like I do. And although I still have so much to learn and so many more people to meet, I'm excited and ready to continue this project into 2017. 

As always, I encourage you to please contact me at if you'd like to get together or share information regarding the Haish family. I'm always looking to learn and share more.

Unfortunately I cannot promise that I will post something fresh every day, or even every week, but I will as often as I can because I truly love this project. I have learned so much about my community, my family, and even myself.

Thank you for all your assistance, your support, and your guidance. I hope you have a wonderful New Year, and I look forward to working with you all in 2017.

Jessi (Haish) LaRue