You know what they say about weather, especially here in the PNW, but actually in most of the world, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.”
True, and winter is one of the best seasons for that sentiment. Today, for example, as the exquisite opera “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” poured forth from the radio [listen to the most famous duet in opera at the YouTube link below], I was warm and dry and staring happily out the window, watching the rain pour forth from the sky.
It was so dark before and during the downpour that I had to turn the electric lights on in the kitchen. But that rain reminded me of a friend from years ago. I’ll call him Walt.
Walt grew up on a farm, he said, and the chore he hated the most was walking the fence and repairing any holes he found. Neighbors get pretty testy when the livestock got out. And Walt got pretty testy when he had to work in the rain.
“There is no rain gear in the world that can keep out Oregon rain,” he said. “By the time I was finished, I was soaked to the skin.”
This memory reminded me of a fantastic invention that played a key role in the settlement of the West. Barbed wire. Or, “bobwahr” as we used to say in New Mexico.
I want to go to this fascinating museum in La Cr0sse, Kansas, the Barbed Wire Museum. Although it was invented ten years earlier, it took Henry M. Rose to patent it in 1873 and thus help found a huge industry.
It was “..a new idea in fencing. It was a wooden rail with a series of sharp spikes protruding from the sides of the rail. The fence rail, patented earlier that year on May 13, was designed to be attached to an existing fence to “prick” an animal when it came into contact with the rail and keep livestock from breaking through,” according to the history on the museum’s website.
“This fence attracted the attention of … three men, Joseph Glidden, Jacob Haish, and Isaac Ellwood. Each man had the idea to improve upon Rose’s fence by attaching the spikes (barbs) directly to a piece of wire. Each went their separate ways to work on an invention that would soon bring them together.”
Yes, other people had thought of it, but it took ingenuity to perfect it, drive to patent it (though getting patents has been a hobby for many handymen then and now), and money to manufacture it.
Now comes a story all too common in the 19th and early 20th centuries – patent battles. I studied an individual case in my Business History class at Michigan State University years ago. That was the battle of the sewing machine. Bigger ambitions meant bigger experiments: airplanes, cars, electric engines and motors, steel manufacturing, and more.
Ambitious hard-working men (and a few women) often had dollar signs in their eyes as they dreamed of and often achieved huge fortunes for their creations.
“Mary Kies was an early 19th-century American who received the first patent granted to a woman by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, on May 5, 1809. Kies had invented a new technique for weaving straw with silk or thread.”(HT:Wikipedia) Kies was lauded for boosting the nation’s hat industry.
Back to barb wire fences – in the 1800s the Kansas Legislature passed Fence Laws, defining fences and property owner responsibilities. As you can imaging, those laws were amended many times.
Remember “The Farmer and the Cowman Should Be Friends” in the great musical “Oklahoma?” Fences finally solved the problems encountered between the two.
Now, as promisted, here is the YouTube video of two of the world’s greatest tenors, Placido Domingo and Emilio Rolando Villazon, singing that famous duet to a crowd that looks like a Trump rally: