Exhibit Exploration: The Devil's Rope


Frontier Homestead State Park is fortunate to have a large and varied barbed wire display with 84 samples of wire. Although it is unknown when each wire was manufactured, patent dates range from 1868 to 1894. These samples are displayed on two towers and each tower has four sides. The north tower is the “boot” tower and the south tower is the “hat” tower. Locating the wire samples is easy as each side is labeled with “N” (north), “E” (east), “S” (south) and “W” (west). The No. 1 sample is at the top of each side.

The earliest barbed wire patent was by New York blacksmith Michael Kelly in 1868. His “Thorny Fence” wire was the first successful barbed wire produced. Four Kelly patent wires are on display. The next earliest patents came from Jacob Haish and Joseph Glidden. These two (along with Isaac Ellwood) visited the 1873 DeKalb Kansas County Fair. Together they viewed a primitive barbed fence device created by farmer Henry Rose. Each came away with a plan to improve the design. Within two years, they had competing patents. Haish and Glidden vied for the honor of being recognized as the inventor of barbed wire, but Glidden ultimately received the title. A sample of Jacob Haish’s “S Barb” patent of 1875 can be seen in the exhibit.


Joseph Glidden has ten samples on display. His most famous: the “Winner” is in our collection. Most of these wires have an 1874 patent date. The “Winner” by Glidden is probably the most common design with a two point wire barb secured to one strand and a second strand twisted around the first to secure the barb. One specialty of Glidden was the production of barbed wire made specifically for the railroad. On display are three samples of railroad wire by Glidden patented in 1874 and 1876. The railroad bought and installed a lot of wire along its right-of-way and unfortunately a lot of it was appropriated by others for non-railroad use. In order to identify this stolen wire, the railroad asked Glidden to make a unique wire to be sold only to the railroad. The trick was to incorporate at least one square strand in the wire and thus stolen wire could be easily identified.

Also highlighted in the exhibit are war wire, horse wire, buckthorn and ribbon wire, signal wire and wire with many different styles of barbs. Come in and check it out!