Saturday, May 28, 2016

Jacob Haish historical marker in the works

Jacob Haish photo courtesy of Joiner History Room
DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, or DAAHA, is in the beginning stages of bringing a Jacob Haish historical marker to town. 

The non-profit organization has been behind many other historical markers around DeKalb, including the location of the first DeKalb brand hybrid corn breeding plot.

Donna Langford, DAAHA operations manager, said the organization hopes to have a historical marker honoring Haish at the DeKalb Public Library on Oak Street as soon as this year. In his will, Haish bequested $150,000 money to build a public library, the Haish Memorial Library.

Langford said the location is pending library board approval. The project is also on hold until funds are raised to pay for the marker, which could cost as much as $4,000, she said.

Donations to the project can be made at DAAHA's website or by calling DAAHA at 815-756-8737. Langford asks that donors specify that the money is going toward the Haish historical marker project.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Sophia the Inventor

It appears that Jacob wasn't the only Haish who could fashion an invention with wire.

Sophia, Jacob Haish's wife, had patents on modifications to the safety pin, as seen below. 

Robert Glover, local history buff and Glidden Homestead executive director, shared this document. He said Sophia's patent was something of local lore he had heard about, but only recently looked into.

"The way I've talked about this at Glidden is that there are so many patents in DeKalb County in this period, and across history for that matter, that even Mrs. Haish, they say, had a patent," Glover said. "This doesn't even take into account those people who invented stuff and thought, "'Well, I fixed my problem, but I'm not going to mess with Chicago patent lawyers or Washington, DC.''" 

If you look closely you'll see Jacob listed as a witness on the patent.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jacob and Sophia

Photos of Jacob and Sophia Haish courtesy of the Joiner History Room.

Sophia Ann Brown was born March 10, 1828 in New York. She was the daughter of Thomas Brown, a farmer in the Naperville, Ill. area. 

Jacob and Sophia were married on May 24, 1847, in DuPage County, Ill. According to a Jan. 26, 1924 DeKalb Chronicle article, "He had been much attracted to Sophia ... during the year he had worked on her father's farm, and their friendship grew into a love that made their married life an ideal one."

They would live on the Brown farm for the first two years of their marriage before moving to DeKalb County.

Not much is known about Sophia, especially in comparison to her husband. However, her obituary, printed in the Sycamore True Republican on Sept. 11, 1918, said her philanthropies to the community were many.

The Jan. 26, 1924 edition of the DeKalb Chronicle states "Mr. Haish says there were two times in his life when he was particularly fortunate. The first was when he was married, and the second was when he moved to DeKalb. One of the beautiful features of his life has been his devotion to his wife while she lived."
Jacob and Sophia's monument at Fairview Cemetery in DeKalb, Ill. | Photo by Jessi LaRue

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Interview With: Arthur "Artie" Haish

This Jacob Haish project was jumpstarted in April by a trip to Lanton, Missouri to visit my great grandfather, Arthur "Artie" Haish. Artie lived in northern Illinois before he retired in Missouri, and I wanted to see if he knew anything about the barbed wire baron. 
Arthur "Artie" Haish, 85, of Lanton, MO, riding his lawn mower with "no hands" in April 2016. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Visiting him to see what he knew seemed like a shot in the dark; I wasn't sure what would come of it, but I figured he had to know something. Although he never knew Jacob Haish (Jacob died in 1926 and my great grandfather was born in 1930,) he shared with me the few stories he had heard.

He started by pulling out his small but interesting collection of Jacob Haish-related news articles. When he showed me an image of Jacob Haish he said, "God, he's handsome! He looks just like me!" (To give you some context, my great grandpa is a funny, laidback guy.) 

Although Artie didn't get a chance to meet his great uncle Jacob Haish, he said his brothers had known him. Artie recalled hearing a story about Jacob Haish coming to see his brother Calvin "Kelly" Haish when he was born in 1925. He said Jacob Haish held the baby and visited with the family. Artie's siblings have since passed on.
Great grandpa Artie showing me how to draw a cowboy hat. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Parts of our interview are below.

Jessi: Did you ever hear stories about Jacob Haish?
Artie: I heard my mother tell stories for years about him. He wanted to give my mother a farm and she was too proud. She said, when you're dead, that'll be the time for that. And of course when he died, nobody got nothing. 

Jessi: Did you ever hear stories about his personality?
Artie: No, not really. I know that his main maid, he gave her the right to the house as long as she lived [after Haish died.] He had feelings for people. And as far as I know, he had feelings for a lot of people. He used to come out to our house, of course I wasn't born yet. We had a big concrete slab there, and his chauffeur would drive the horses right up along that slab. They could step out of that buggy and on to the slab to step onto the ground.

Jessi: Did you ever have people ask you about being a Haish?
Artie: Kind of. I even run into people down here [near West Plains, MO] that went to college up there. They'd hear my name and want to know why the hospital and streets were named after him, and all that stuff. They had gone to college up there and never knew why it was that way.

Artie told me that Jacob Haish (who immigrated to the United States from Germany when he was nine years old,) spoke German. Artie said his own mother could speak German, but his father couldn't understand it.

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Do you have Jacob Haish stories you'd like to share? Please contact the author of this blog, Jessi Haish-LaRue, at Thanks!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Find of the Week: Barb City Bank check

Courtesy of Steve Bigolin
DeKalb historian Steve Bigolin shared this check with me. The check, dated April 29, 1901, is from the Barb City Bank, which was originally founded by Jacob Haish in 1884. If you look in the top left corner of the check you will see Jacob Haish's name listed as bank president.

The bank was located on the southwest corner of Third Street and Lincoln Highway. You can see a great photo of the bank here.

Barbed wire was apparent in every aspect of Haish's life -- the BCB logo and bank name on this check are written in barbed wire. Click the photo to enlarge.

Thanks to Steve Bigolin for sharing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Jacob Haish furniture exhibit at Ellwood House

The Haish mansion, in DeKalb, housed the furniture that is now in the Ellwood House exhibit. The mansion was demolished in 1961. It has been said that efforts to save historical buildings, like the Ellwood House, were heightened after the Haish house was razed. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
The Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb, Ill. is currently home to a variety of furniture that was part of Jacob Haish's home. I recently visited while the exhibit was being reconstructed and rearranged. 

Many of the items in the Haish mansion were sold during an auction on the lawn of the Haish mansion after Jacob's death. Donna Gable, museum director of visitor services, said Paul Nehring purchased quite a bit of the furniture and his wife, Shirley Hamilton Nehring, used it in their home, the Ellwood-Nehring house, which is located on the museum grounds. 

After the home was donated to the Ellwood House Museum in 2011, the furniture was sold to the Ellwood House Museum so it could be viewed by visitors to the museum. Gable said the Glidden House had also considered purchasing and displaying the furniture, but the Ellwood House had more physical room to host the items.
Interior pieces of the home, which were provided for the exhibit by local historian Steve Bigolin. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Gable said the furniture is interesting because it was used in the Nehring home just like anyone else would use furniture, but once the items were placed in the museum, they instantly became "artifacts."

Photos of items in the exhibit are below.
Rocking chair and settee, circa 1880s | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Occasional table, circa 1880 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Dining room table, circa 1885 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
This table has a total of 12 leaves. If fully extended it would be fourteen feet long.
Details of the dining room table. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Wenzel Friedrich horn chairs, of San Antonio, Texas, circa 1890 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
These chairs were considered "top of the line" of Friedrich's production, and they may have originally been upholstered in jaguar hide. Each chair is made from 22 polished horns from Texas longhorn cattle, with a seat rail of horn and set with a Texas star in the center.
Close-up of chair legs | Photo by Jessi LaRue
The legs of the chair are set with brass-and-glass ball feet made by Tiffany & Co.
Close-up of chair | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Close-up of chair | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Self-propelling wheelchair attributed to Jacob Haish, circa 1900 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
This wheelchair, attributed to Haish, features a chair mounted on a platform with rubber wheels and a spoked wheel. The rear wheels are hand-operated by a crank and chain mechanism.The chair is steered by a hand-tiller. There is also a handle at the back of the chair so that it can be pushed.
Self-propelling wheelchair attributed to Jacob Haish, circa 1900 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Occasional table attributed to Jacob Haish, circa 1901 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
The table features stars, circles, horses, cats, dogs, birds and foxes. Haish, who created this piece, had worked as a carpenter, so he was very familiar with woodworking.
Close-up of occasional table attributed to Jacob Haish, circa 1901 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Andrews' Patent Parlor folding bed, circa 1880 | Photo by Jessi LaRue
This piece was designed to look like a cabinet but opened up to become a folding bed.

Special thanks to the Ellwood House Museum for allowing me to document and share this exhibit.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Find of the Week: Jacob throws the switch

In the first few weeks of Jacob Haish research, I've come across some pretty neat documents and photos. I'm going to post a "Find of the Week" every week just to share an interesting piece of history that I discover along the way. Check it out!
Courtesy of Joiner History Room
On Saturday I visited the Joiner History Room and requested to see what they had regarding Jacob Haish. Files and files of photos and documents came out. Needless to say, I've asked for copies of....everything. I'll be sharing it all here very soon.

Sue Breese of the Joiner History Room made me a copy of this photo so I'd have something while I wait for the other copies to be made. This photo is incredible.

According to an Oct. 23, 1916 article of the Daily Chronicle, provided to me by Jeff Marshall, the photo illustrates Haish "throwing the switch" at the formal opening of Nehring Electrical Works. Throwing the switch would start the factory's machines, the article states. Haish would have been nearly 90 years old at the time of this photo, and the building had previously housed one of Haish's factories

Click the photo to enlarge and take a close look at Jacob Haish's cane, gloves, hat, and stern-looking face. Isn't history amazing?
Special thanks to Sue Breese of the Joiner History Room for taking time to meet with me and fulfill a pretty large request.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Who was Jacob Haish?

Courtesy of Regional History Center, Northern Illinois University
Jacob Haish was an early inventor of barbed wire in DeKalb, Ill. 

He was born in 1826 in Brandische, near Carlsriche, Germany and came to the United States with his family as a young child. They first lived in Ohio and he learned the carpenter trade from his father.

He came to Illinois when he was 19 years old, first living in Naperville (in DuPage County) and marrying Sophia Brown there in 1847.

After they wed, they purchased a farm in Pierce Township, and in 1853 they moved to Buena Vista, which today is known as DeKalb.  

DeKalb was very small at the time and Haish saved $100 to purchase lumber and start his work as a carpenter. He would later build many prominent homes in the city of DeKalb, some of which still stand today, according to "Oxen to Jets." 

His idea for barbed wire stemmed from complaints from local farmers. According to "Oxen to Jets," "Mr. Haish first tried to use osage orange with its thorns for fencing but that proved impracticable ... He tried one wire, then two, then rather abandoned the idea as impractical. One day a farmer, F.W. Pierce, came into [Haish's shop,] saw the wire and purchased it for fifty-two cents."

That transaction is believed to be the first purchase of barbed wire.

Haish would experiment more with the design, and found improvement when he created his soon to be famous "S" barb. He applied for a patent for the design in 1874, but was not awarded the patent until 1875, which was almost 10 months after his rival, Joseph F. Glidden, received a patent for his own design, according to documentation at the Ellwood House Museum. Haish had earlier filed for patents on other designs, so until his death, just shy of his 100th birthday, he would proclaim to be the first inventor of barbed wire.

From his first patent, he would spend most of his life dedicated to his work, such as creating barbed wire and building a grand mansion to call his home. He would also spend countless dollars on charitable projects in DeKalb, along with his rivals Isaac Ellwood and Joseph Glidden. One of their greatest accomplishments as a team was bringing Northern Illinois State Normal School, now known as Northern Illinois University, to DeKalb.  
A sample of "S" wire on display at the Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb | Photo by Jessi LaRue
Haish was known as a philanthropist for these projects throughout his life, but some of his greatest contributions to the community came after his death. Because Jacob and his wife Sophia did not have children of their own, they chose to let their wealth benefit the community. 

Donations funded projects such as the Haish Memorial Library, now known as the DeKalb Public Library, the first books in the Northern Illinois Normal School Library, Haish Gymnasium and the DeKalb Public Hospital. His contributions even reached as far forward as 2006, when the final $450,000 of his estate went to fund part of Kishwaukee Community Hospital. In return, the emergency room wing was named after him.
At the Ellwood House Museum: Haish featured in one of his barbed wire advertisements. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
But who was Haish? Those stories are a little bit harder to track down.

The best description I've found of Haish comes from a Feb. 1900 edition of the "Northern Illinois," today known as the Northern Star, Northern Illinois University's independent campus newspaper:
"Mr. Haish's career seems phenomenal. It was due to labor, energy and perseverance. He made the most of his opportunities, was not extravagant, and is now reaping the rich reward of his labors. 

His manner is quiet and straightforward. He always says exactly what he means, without useless compliment; is not slow to condemn injustice nor to reward faithfulness. 

His greatest enjoyment is at his own fireside, where, with his wife and friends, he is found to be a delightful companion. He is retired and conservative before the public, and commands the respect and admiration of all who know him."  

This blog will tell in-depth stories on each of these aspects of Haish's extensive life. Please come back to A Twist in History to see more.

Sources: Feb. 1900 edition of the Northern Illinois
"Oxen to Jets: A History of De Kalb  County Illinois 1835-1963" Edited by Harriet Wilson Davy 
Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb, Ill.