Saturday, April 29, 2017

Barbed wire inspiration started with Henry Rose

Henry M. Rose historical marker in Waterman. | Photo by Jessi LaRue
How did Joseph Glidden, Isaac Ellwood and Jacob Haish have the same idea of attaching barbs to wire? It started with Henry Rose, a farmer from Waterman.

In 1873, all three of the future barbed wire barons were attending a county fair on property that now belongs to Northern Illinois University. 

According to "The Devils Rope: A Cultural History of Barbed Wire," by Alan Krell, "there they came across a most unusual object: a strip of wood about sixteen feet long and one inch square studded with short metal points. Made by Henry M. Rose and patented on 13 May 1873, it was designed to be hung on a plain wire fence as a deterrent to cattle." 

It was on this day that Glidden, Haish and Ellwood spotted the fencing, and they all had the notion to attach the barbs to wire, rather than fence posts. This sole invention spurred three business-minded men to change history.

According to "The Wire that Fenced the West," by Henry D. and Frances T. McCallum, Rose was a farmer from the Waterman area, who just wanted to control a "breachy cow."

"His design was not as good as a few other 'armoured fencing' patterns which had appeared in the lists of United States patents issues five or six years earlier," the book states. "...It was a plain, rough-hewn exhibit and might well have gone unnoticed and unknown, as had most other efforts by other men. But because Henry Rose's work showed up at the right time and place -- the prairie farm belt of Illinois in the early 1870's -- it became famous as the device which triggered action by three men who went ahead to become inventors of practical barbed-wire fencing.

...The men came with no thought of making a discovery. Yet, when by chance they met and stood together examining the crudely spiked strip of wood, each considering how it might fit his personal needs, there was borne in upon the consciousness of each the realization that what he saw gave promise of things to come ... the files of the United States Patent Office record that within six months each of the three men had applied for patent on separate types of fencing, and each type was equipped -- as Henry Rose's had been -- with 'sharp projections' made of wire."

More than 100 years later, a historical marker was dedicated to Rose outside of his former farm on Waterman Road. The marker was dedicated in 1976 by the DeKalb County Board and the DeKalb County Historical Society. The marker can still be found today, outside of the home at 10302 Waterman Road, Waterman, Illinois.

Henry Rose historical marker | Photo by Jessi LaRue

Henry Rose historical marker | Photo by Jessi LaRue

The marker reads:
Originator of barbed fencing

"In the early 1870's when rural life held promise for a nation almost 100 years old, Henry M. Rose farmed this farmstead. He received United States Patent 138-763 for an 'improvement in fence.' Rose used a strip of wood sixteen feet long and an inch square. He cut wire pieces two inches long at a 90 degree angle which were driven into the strips about eight inches apart. The strips were tied to wire fence. When displayed for the public at a fair in 1873 it triggered ideas for all wire barb fencing. His creation was a great step forward in fencing history."

Marker placed by DeKalb County Historical Society and the DeKalb County Board, September 25, 1976.

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