Once characterized by vast, open ranges inhabited by settlers and Native Americans alike, the American West changed forever in the late 1800s. Following the 1862 Homestead Act, which provided 160 acres of federal land to anyone who agreed to farm it, land disputes intensified and a need for hard boundaries emerged.
Many turned to using homemade twisted wire to enclose their livestock and protect their land. But in 1874, Illinois farmer Joseph Glidden created an industry when he invented the first commercially successful barbed wire. With his patent, he introduced a poky product that would forever snag shirtsleeves and change how private land and natural resources were managed.
Today, some of that history lives on in a unique collection donated to the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management by the late Gaylon Lane, a retired soil scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource and Conservation Service. Containing 269 individual strands of barbed wire amassed since 1965, the collection shows how fencing designs evolved from single, smooth threads to multiple-strand mesh and braided wires with various fixed and mechanical barbs. Each strand is labeled with its creator, patent name and date. The oldest dates to 1853—a smooth, single-wire snake-ribbon pattern called the “Meriwether.”
Now housed in the Horticulture/Forest Science Building, the collection is a visual reminder of both the nation’s history with land stewardship and its economic, social and environmental implications for the future. “Land becomes more and more important across generations, not only as it relates to the land itself but also other natural resources from wildlife to water,” said department head Dr. Roel Lopez ’96 ’00. “This collection is a special reminder of the history that brought us to this point, but it also reminds us that the people who walk our halls have an opportunity and responsibility to improve our future stewardship methods and approaches.”
To support the department’s work in land conservation and natural resource management, contact Scott Jarvis ’00, director of development, at the bottom of this page.