- barbed wire was cheap to manufacture and affordable to buy
- it was easy and quick to erect and maintain even by an unskilled person
- it did not require much wood, which was in short supply on the plains of the American west; it requires only fence posts, wire and fixing devices, such as staples
- It was the first wire technology capable of restraining cattle, making it highly effective in controlling livestock.
On display at the Western Illinois Museum as the January Artifact of the Month is a collection of barbed wire donated in 1980 by Dr. C. Orville Elliott, a professor at Western Illinois University. Consisting of over 248 types and 433 variations of barbed wire, Elliott‘s extensive collection of barbed wire was built over a period of 13 years. The collection is displayed on a number of two feet by two feet panels covered with gold burlap with rope edging. Each barbed wire strand is meticulously attached and is identified on the back of the board. There are approximately 11 pieces of wire on each of the 25 boards. Most people do not realized that there are hundreds of types of barbed wire. If you did not know anything about barbed wire, you would think that there was just one type but this display graphically illustrates the almost mind-boggling and amazing varieties of barbed wire. It is thanks to a Boy Scout that the museum has such a finely crafted barbed wire display. Back in 1981, Craig Conrad was a 14-year-old freshman at Macomb High School and a Boy Scout in Troop 309. Conrad needed to work on a big service project to become an Eagle Scout and he decided to work on the barbed wire display. Conrad came up with the design on how to display the wires. By the summer of 1981, he had mounted over 270 varieties of the barbed wire collection for his Eagle Scout project. Conrad eventually involved 11 Boy Scouts from Troop 309 in helping with the barbed wire display project. Conrad himself spent over 125 hours on the project and he estimated that other troop members gave an additional 50 hours to the project. Now 31 years later, Conrad’s Eagle Scout project still benefits the museum by displaying the barbed wire in a neat and easy-to-look at format. What exactly is barbed wire? Barbed wire is a fencing material consisting of a metal cable with regularly spaced sharp projections. The cable usually consists of two wires twisted around each other to add strength and to allow the cable to expand and contract with temperature changes without breaking. The sharp points, called barbs, usually consist of short pieces of wire twisted around one or both of the cable wires. Most barbed wire is made of steel. Fences have been around since people began living in settlements and needed to keep things in or keep things out. Fences have been made from many types of material. Before the introduction of barbed wire, early American farmers tried different types of materials to make fences: rocks, logs, plants, or simple smooth wire fences. Eventually most fences were replaced by barbed wire and there are a number of reasons why barbed wire became so prevalent: