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."

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