Each year the Museum of the West in Grand Junction invites area museums to be part of its Heritage Rendezvous to showcase items in collections found at Western Slope museums. Pioneer Town Museum is participating this year with an exhibit of barbed wire.
The narrative which accompanies the wire display explains "How the West was Fenced."
The need for barbed wire arose in the 19th century as the American frontier moved westward into the Great Plains. Traditional fence materials, wooden rails and stone, became scarce and expensive. Barbed wire was also known as Devil's Rope and Bobbed Wire.
The idea of barbed wire as a means for fencing livestock originated in America during 1868; Michael Kelly had invented the basic design for barbed wire when he twisted two plain wires together to create a cable for barbs. One of the first patents in the United States for barbed wire was issued in 1867 to Lucien B. Smith of Kent, Ohio, who is regarded as the inventor. Then, in 1874, Joseph Glidden, a farmer from DeKalb, Illinois, made improvements to Kelly's invention, locking a simple wire barb into a double-strand wire, for which he received a patent. In the 1800's there were over 530 samples of barbed wire patented in the United States. Glidden's patent was considered #1, and by the time of his death in 1906, he was one of the richest men in America.
Barbed wire was the first wire technology capable of restraining cattle. Wire fences were cheaper and easier to erect than their alternatives. Accelerated by manufacturing improvements and coupled with falling steel prices, the price of barbed wire was driven from $20 per hundred pounds in 1874, to $10 in 1880, and under $2 by 1897. In 1876 commercial production was 1,500 tons and by 1900 annual barbed wire production had reached 200,000 tons. By 1910 wooden fences had almost disappeared.
Washburn & Moen Mfg. Co. patented its own designs, acquired Glidden's patent, and became the company that produced millions of miles of barbed wire that fenced America. Washburn & Moen's barbed wire would be the desired standard. It changed the American landscape and produced a high-quality, economic method to fence farms and the range. By 1885, the company was producing 418 types of wire with an output of 245 tons a day!
Barbed wire, the popular fencing tool, hurried westward expansion and influenced life in the region as dramatically as the rifle, telegraph, windmill, and locomotive.
The theme of this year's Heritage Rendezvous is "Out of Place and Time: Unusual and Strange Artifacts Found in Institutional Collections." The artifacts in the exhibition include a prayer bell encapsulated by a tree, a unique invention, photographs of pioneers in distant lands and unusual artifacts or heirlooms. The exhibit continues through March 25.
For more information about the Museum of the West and the Heritage Rendezvous, visit museumofwesternco.com.
The Pioneer Town Museum is closed in the winter, and will open for the summer season beginning May 28. It features 24 buildings on nearly five acres, many of which are historical buildings relocated to the site in Cedaredge. The buildings display artifacts representing the historical period from the late 1800s through the early and mid 1900s. Learn more about Pioneer Town at www.pioneertown.org.