Rusted relic brings back memories

Jerry Apps

Shortly after we bought our farm, I found a rusty roll of barb wire leaning against a nearly rotted off fence post. Looking more closely, I quickly saw that this barb wire was different from any I had seen before. 

This antique barn wire found by columnist Jerry Apps on his farm was patented by Edward M. Crandall of Chicago in 1879.

I grew up with barb wire, the kind with sharp spikes designed to keep livestock where they were supposed to be. “Making fence,” we called the activity that took place on days when it had rained too much for other field work. It seems there was always a stretch of fence that needed fixing or even replacing. Our fences, they were everywhere on the home farm, consisted of four strands of barb wire stapled to red cedar fence posts that marched around each of our several fields.

The rusty old wire fence I found had no spikes of the kind I remembered. Rather it had little metal triangles woven into two twisted wires. I did some checking and discovered this strange barb wire had been patented by Edward M. Crandall of Chicago in 1879. My guess is Tom Stewart, who had homesteaded my farm in 1867, or another early owner bought this wire to enclose a cow pasture—now the prairie that I am restoring.

The very first popular barb wire had been patented by an Illinois farmer, Joseph Glidden, in 1873. A few others had come up with barb wire designs, but Glidden took the lead, and by 1880, he had sold more than 80 million pounds of this replacement for wooden rail fences.

I am pleased to have a piece of historical barb wire—to go along with the many other antiques I have uncovered on my farm over the years.

The Old Timer Remembers: Good fences make good neighbors.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to