Did barbed wire put cowboys out of work?
Barbed wire itself was patented in the U.S. in 1867 and a machine for its manufacture in 1874.
EB gives the bare bones on the barbs, but Wikipedia (“barbed wire”), which is quoted below, gives the social implications.
Barbed wire played an important role in the protection of range rights in the Western U.S. It was a much better solution than wooden fences, plain wire fences and planting thorny bushes like the Osage orange.
One fan wrote the inventor Joseph Glidden:
- it takes no room, exhausts no soil, shades no vegetation, is proof against high winds, makes no snowdrifts, and is both durable and cheap.
Barbed wire is often cited by historians as the invention that truly tamed the West. Herding large numbers of cattle on open terrain required significant manpower just to catch strays, but with an inexpensive method to divide, sub-divide and allocate parcels of land to control the movement of cattle, the need for a vast labor force became unnecessary. By the beginning of the 20th century the need for significant numbers of cowboys was not necessary. Some historians have dated the end of the Old West era of American history to the invention and subsequent proliferation of barbed wire.
Weird and scary sidenote: Barbed wire is also frequently used as a weapon in hardcore professional wrestling matches, often as a covering for another type of weapon—Mick Foley was infamous for using a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire—and infrequently as a covering of or substitute for the ring ropes. It seems that a glut of entertainment options will inevitably lead to more and more extreme forms as entrepreneurs attempt to stand out from the noise.