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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

changed U.S. landscape

changed U.S. landscape

Glidden's barbed wire changed U.S. landscape

There is an old adage that says, "Change begins at the ballot box," which could not be further from the truth. Change begins with human ingenuity, which affects how we live our lives, which - at some future point - affects how we vote.

A perfect example is the invention that Joseph Glidden, an Illinois farmer, patented on Oct. 27, 1873. He called it barbed wire because, unlike the single-strand fencing wire then in existence, Glidden used two strands of wire twisted together, which resulted in what Glidden called "barbed" wire spurs. Not only was barbed wire stronger, but also Glidden's design proved to be conducive to mass production, meaning barbed wire became plentiful and inexpensive.


Which changed the American landscape forever. Before Glidden's invention, relatively few farmers or ranchers settled the central or western part of the Great Plains because they had no practical way of fencing in their property. Trees on those barren plains were scarce, meaning wooden fence posts had to be shipped by train and wagon from distant forests. This made fencing prohibitively expensive, and without fences around their property, ranchers could neither prevent their own herds from roaming, nor prevent other herds - especially the herds of hungry cattle moved by the famous cattle-drives of the late 1800s - from encroaching on their lands.

But Glidden's barbed wire changed all of that. Suddenly farmers and ranchers had an affordable way to fence their property, and, by 1880, Glidden's Barb Fence Company - which he formed in 1875 - had sold more than 80 million pounds of barbed wire. As one rancher wrote of Glidden's invention, "It takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts and is both durable and cheap."

In sum, Glidden's invention made farming and ranching practical in the Great Plains, helping to pave the way for a significant migration to that part of the country (granted, another byproduct of human ingenuity, the railroad, also made possible that migration).

Just as the cotton gin and mechanical cotton picker had fundamentally changed the economic, social and - finally - political arrangements in the Deep South, so did Glidden's invention help do the same in the Midwest and West.

The western population rapidly increased, resulting in new states joining the Union, while increasing the economic and political power of existing states. Soon after, the nation experienced a shift westward of both the balance of power and the political priorities of Congress.

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