Iron Age Ads: Marketing Barbed Wire

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Images courtesy of the Devil’s Rope Museum, McLean, Texas. The original versions are part of the Ellwood House Museum collection, DeKalb, Ill.
Fencing the land became an obsession with landowners during the late 1860s. Between 1866 and 1868, more than 300 non-barbed wire fence patents were issued. The advent of metal wire fencing with points, which could be manufactured economically by machine in huge quantities, set off a boom in fencing all across the U.S.

Of interest is the fact that barbed wire was rarely advertised before 1880. This was probably the result of three factors: extensive patent legal wrangling among companies and inventors, demand for wire in excess of production capacity, and to avoid conflict with that portion of the public who did not approve of the “prickly barrier” perceived to be dangerous to livestock.

Black-and-white barbed wire advertisements appeared in the late 1870s. I.L. Ellwood & Co. used the color images shown on these pages in advertising in 1880. The large Glidden Steel Barb Wire images seem directed at railroads, many of which had not fenced their right-of-ways at that time. FC

Farm Collector periodically reproduces some of the most spectacular advertisements used to promote farm equipment and farm products in days gone by. To submit a vintage advertisement for possible publication, send it to: Iron Age Ads, Farm Collector, 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, KS 66609; or submit high-quality digital images by e-mail:

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