The Glidden Homestead & Historical Center
De Kalb is famous for its invention of barbed wire, and that invention began at the homestead of Joseph Glidden, where his wife was frustrated by the livestock repeatedly entering their yard. Glidden purchased a 600 acre tract and lived in a small log cabin for twenty years. In 1861, he and his second wife Lucinda built the red brick house that visitors can see today. A visit to the homestead provides a unique opportunity to explore the history of an invention that transformed the West. It also offers a glimpse the everyday life of ordinary farmers in the nineteenth century.
Backstory and Context
Originally from New Hampshire, Joseph Glidden came to De Kalb with his brother in 1841. Threshing grains for an income, Glidden was able to purchase 600 acres of land and built a log cabin for his family. Glidden's first wife, Clarissa Foster, and two sons died shortly after moving to the cabin in 1843. Glidden remarried Lucinda Warne in 1850 and eleven years later they built the red brick house that stands at this location. This house saw the couple raise their family and this was also where Glidden invented the barbed wire.
The story of the barbed wire began in 1873 when Lucinda complained to Joseph that the livestock were getting into their yard. Shortly thereafter she noticed many of her wire hairpins had gone missing. It wasn't until she saw Joseph take one out of his pocket that she realized her husband had been taking them. Upon asking him, he answered that he was working on an idea for a fence. Experimenting with his wife's hairpins and a long piece of wire led eventually to the invention of "The Winner," the first successful barbed wire invention.
In July, 1874, Glidden formed a partnership with Isaac L. Ellwood to begin manufacturing the barbed wire. It took little time for the company to outgrow its facilities. In fact, the business succeeded so much that every future barbed wire can be said to have been based off of the original Glidden blueprint. In 1876, Glidden was able to sell the business and retire, maintaining royalties of all sales.
Today visitors can tour the house, barn, and blacksmith shop at the Glidden Homestead & Historical Center. On Sundays, when the house is open, volunteer blacksmiths demonstrate their work in the blacksmith shop, hammering hot iron and shaping the molten material into useful tools, making a particularly interesting stop during a visit in De Kalb.