Is Barbed Wire an Effective Communication Device?

In the Old West, barbed wire was used mostly to divide people and places, but in the mid-1880s, some ingenious farmers found a way for it to connect people, too.

In the 1880s, rural American farmers turned barbed wire fences into telephone lines to communicate with neighbors.
In the 1880s, rural American farmers turned barbed wire fences into telephone lines to communicate with neighbors.

At the time, the telephone was a new invention, and telephone companies weren't about to set up lines just to appease a few spread-out farmers west of the Mississippi River. But barbed wire was also a new and a relatively common sight out west, dividing homestead from homestead. All it took was some creative thinking by farm folk to connect to their neighbors via those very same wires, with another wire snaking into a home and a telephone to hook it to.

"Ranchers and farm men built many of the early systems as private lines to hook up the neighbors,” wrote historian Ronald R. Kline. Not only did the makeshift lines provide isolated families with a way to communicate with their neighbors, but it also gave them faster access to emergency services. "Wherever these country telephones have been introduced, and they may appear extremely primitive, they are regarded as an indispensable convenience,” Richard F. Steele wrote in An Illustrated History of the Big Bend Country.

A nice ring to it:

  • There were about 2 million pay phones in America in the 1990s. Today, while they still exist, their numbers have dropped to around 100,000.

  • Telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell wanted people to say "Ahoy" when answering a phone; luckily, Thomas Edison convinced him that "Hello" was better.

  • The first phonebook came out two years after the telephone, in 1878; it was 20 pages long.

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    • In the 1880s, rural American farmers turned barbed wire fences into telephone lines to communicate with neighbors.
      By: Patryk Kosmider
      In the 1880s, rural American farmers turned barbed wire fences into telephone lines to communicate with neighbors.