Although it is on the National Register of Historic Places, many drive past the Glidden property on W. Lincoln Highway and do not know of historical significance the Glidden brick barn possesses as the place where barbed wired was invented. Built around 1870, the brick barn was the stomping grounds of an iconic Midwestern farmer, pioneer, and innovator — Joseph Farwell Glidden. Born in 1813 in Charleston, New Hampshire, Joseph Glidden settled in DeKalb County, Illinois in November of 1842 and purchased 400 acres of land from his cousin Russell Huntley. This land, which grew to 800 acres by the time left the farm in 1877, became the breeding ground for barbed wire and the site where Joseph Glidden secured himself in history as “The Father of Barbed Wire”.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the 1870s. Joseph and Lucinda Glidden had been settled on their farm for nearly three decades. Lucinda, Joseph Glidden’s wife, had noticed the livestock were getting into the yard. After a comment from Lucinda, Mr. Glidden, handy and innovative in nature, began experimenting on ways to create wire fencing to keep livestock out of the yard.
In the winter of 1872-73, Lucinda had noticed her large wire hairpins she kept in a milk-glass dish on her dresser began to disappear. Lucinda, puzzled by the disappearance of her hairpins, questioned Elva, her daughter, who denied taking them. After supper one evening, Lucinda noticed Joseph take out two of her missing hairpins as he reached into his shirt pocket. At the time, Glidden had been using the hairpins for his wire fence, wrapping them around wire to create barbs. Lucinda’s recollection of this incident paints a picture of the creative and innovative mind that Joseph Glidden wielded.
Joseph Glidden relentlessly continued his work in the barn to create barbed wire through the winter of 1873 and 1874 — the winter of “The Winner”. In the fall of 1873, Glidden consulted blacksmith Phineas Vaughan to develop a sufficient coil for the barbed wire. Taking apart old coffee mill, Vaughan used a crank to create a small uniform sized coil. Following this breakthrough, Glidden continued experimenting in the brick barn and took a fixed wire with barbs on it and twisted another plain wire around that to hold the barbs in place. This improvement is what Joseph Glideen would call “The Winner”. Glidden would use the brick barn as a barbed wire factory from the winter of 1873 leading into the spring of 1874. “The Winner” would eventually be patented on November 24, 1874.
“The Winner” would eventually become the most widely used barbed wire in the nation. Below you can see Andrew Johnsons’ recollection of his time as a farm hand for Glidden the year “The Winner” was patented:
Joseph Glidden would later start a barbed wire factory to mass produce his famous barbed wire where his brick barn was no longer needed to create the barbed wire. In 1876, Joseph Glidden sold half of his business to Washburn & Moen Manufacturing Company and “retired” from manufacturing. The Glidden Barbed Wire Company ultimately evolved into American Steel and was incorporated into was is known today as U.S. Steel Manufacturing Company.
Thus, Glidden’s brick barn can be considered the monument for the invention of barbed wire, a symbol of innovation in the Midwest, the workshop of an iconic inventor. The story of Joseph Glidden and the invention of barbed wire is one of hard work and innovation, a story that radiates the “American way”.