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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V03, Page 385 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BARBED WIRE, a protective variety of fencing, consisting usually of several strands of wire twisted together with sharp spikes or points clinched or fastened into the strands. In the United States, barbed wire for fencing was originally suggested to meet conditions existing in the western states, by reason of the large cattle-raising industry in sections where timber was scarce. Prior to its introduction, a No. 9 round or oval iron wire was popular on the frontier of the United States and- in South America, as a fencing material. Large amounts were used annually for this purpose, but iron lacked strength, and single wire strand was not fully satisfactory on account of stretching in warm and contracting in cold weather, and of thus being broken. Cattle would rub against a smooth fence, and this constant pressure loosened the posts and broke the wire. To overcome this defect, ingenious people--the most successful being farmers—set themselves to find a way by which wire could be used and at the same time be free from destruction by the animals it was intended to confine. ' This investigation resulted in the invention of barbed wire. Soon after, automatic machinery was invented for rapidly and cheaply placing the barb upon the smooth wire, so that the cost of barbed wire is much less than the cost of smooth wire when it was in general use. So immediately did barbed wire find favour with the farmers of the United States, and, in fact, all over the world, that the manufacture of wire was revolutionized. The history of barbed wire fencing is of recent date. In the United States—the real home of this industry—patents were taken out by Lucien B. Smith, Kent, Ohio, in 1867; by William B. Hunt, of Scott, N.Y., at almost the same time; and by Michael Kelly, of New York, a year later. The practical beginning of the industry, however, was in the patents issued to Joseph F. Glidden, De Kalb, Ill., 1874, on barbed fence wire, and during the same year, to Joseph F. Glidden and Phineas W. Vaughan, for a machine to manufacture the same. These inventions were the foundation of the system of patents under which barbed wire has been protected and sold. The development of the barbed wire industry would hardly have been possible without steel. Iron wire, used for fencing prior to the introduction of steel, was not suitable, seeing that iron does not possess sufficient tensile strength and lacks homogeneity, qualities which Bessemer and open-hearth steels possess in a high degree. The advantages of galvanized barbed wire fencing are that it is almost imperishable, is no burden on the posts; does not oppose the wind with enough surface to rack the posts, thus allowing water to settle around them and rot them; is economical, not only in the comparative cheapness of its first cost but also in the amount of land covered by it; and is effective as a barrier against all kinds of stock and a protection against dogs and wild beasts. Cattle, once discovering what it is, will not press against it, nor even go near it, and thus it becomes an effective means of dividing the farmer's ranch into such fields as he may desire. It is quickly and cheaply constructed, and has the advantage of freedom from harbouring weeds. It affords no impediment to the view. A man can see across his farm, and ascertain what is going on in every portion within the scope of vision, as plainly as if there were no fences. It does not contribute to the formation of snow drifts as do other kinds of efficient fence. This makes it a favourite form of fencing for railroads and along highways. Finally, barbed wire composed of two wires twisted together, once firmly put in place, will retain its taut condition through many seasons without repair. The fact of the wire being twisted allows it to adapt itself to all the varying temperatures. The introduction of barbed wire met with some opposition in America on supposed humanitarian grounds, but ample and extended tests, both of the economy and the humanity of the new material, silenced this objection. Now no American farmer, especially in the west, ever thinks of putting any other kind of fencing on his farm, unless it may be the new types of meshed wire field fencing which have been coming so generally' into use since 1899. Generally speaking, the use of barbed wire fencing in other countries has not been as extensive as in the western United States. While it has been used on a comparatively large scale in Argentina and Australia, both these countries use a much larger quantity of plain wire fence, and in Argentina there is an important consumption of high-carbon oval fence wire of great strength, which apparently forms the only kind of fence that meets the conditions in a satisfactory manner. It is interesting to note the largely increased demand for meshed wire field fencing in the more thickly settled-portions of the United States, and along the lines of railway. Beginning with 1899, there has been an annual increase in this demand, owing to the scarcity and high cost of labour, and the discontinuing of the building of rail fences. Meshed wire is considered by many a better enclosure for small animals, like sheep and hogs, than the barbed wire fence. Barbed wire has been popular with railroads, but of late meshed wire fencing has been substituted with advantage, the fabric being made of wires of larger diameter than formerly, to insure greater stability. The popularity, of barbed wire is best shown by the following statistics:
End of Article: BARBED WIRE
BARBECUE (Span. barbacoa)
BARBEL (Barbus vulgaris)

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