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Why was the invention of barbed wire important to Western development?

Barbed wire was commercially developed in 1874 by American inventor Joseph Glidden (1813–1906). Consisting of steel wires that are twisted together to make sharp points resembling thorns, the material was quickly implemented in the West to construct fences. With trees scarce on the Great Plains, farmers had lacked the materials to erect wooden fences. Instead they resorted to planting prickly shrubs as a way of defining their lands and confining livestock. However, this method was not always effective. With the advent of barbed wire, farmers were able to fence in their acreage. Cattle owners became angered by small farmers who put up barbed wire: They had previously allowed livestock to roam the open plain. Fearing depletion of grazing lands, ranchers also began using barbed wire to fence tracts, whether or not they could claim legal title to them. Disputes arose between ranchers and between ranchers and farmers. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland (1837–1908) brought an end to illegal fencing, ordering officials to remove barbed wire from public lands and Indian reservations. Legal use of the material to define land claim boundaries brought the demise of the open range and helped speed agricultural development of the prairie.


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