Out of the Museum

Communication by barbed wire

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Where: Beermann Plaza at 640 5th St.

When: Open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Free: Donations always accepted

If you have an idea what this week’s mystery item pictured above is, please let us know at

For more hints, visit the Lincoln Area Archives Museum from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays.

There are always new exhibits there and friendly docents to share information about life in early Lincoln.

Last week’s mystery item

Jeanne Fritts got it right when she said last week’s mystery item featured samples of different types of antique barbed wire.

Last week’s mystery item showed two displays of barbed wire donated to the museum by the late Ron “Smokey” Reeves of Lincoln.

Barbed wire was first used in the West to fence off pasture, which caused range wars in some areas, and to fence in animals, such as cattle, sheep and goats.

But barbed wire was also used for communication. That’s an intriguing story of the West in the late 1800s and up to the 1920s and even in some areas today, according to museum docents. 

In the late 1800s, ranchers and farmers turned barbed wire into phone lines.  The invention of barbed wire, paired with the invention of the telephone, brought communication to areas where the cost of stringing telephone lines in rural areas was too expensive.  Resourceful settlers used the barbed wire lines already strung.

Barbed wire was patented in France in 1860 and a second Frenchman had a patent in 1865, according to the Lincoln Area Archives Museum docents.  The first patent in America was issued in 1865 to Lucien B. Smith of Ohio. Since then, there have been more than 500 barbed-wire patents with 2,000 variations in the United States, according to the museum docents. 

With the invention of the telephone several years after the invention of barbed wire in America, the two were teamed up by resourceful men to create barbed wire telephone lines. 

Insulators, a phone at each end hooked up to straight wire and barbed wire fencing, allowed individuals to communicate with one another.  Up to 20 phones could be hooked up to one line. 

Barbed wire changed the nature of life on the frontier.  Someone with a radio could have others along his line listen, thus bringing the news to others and passing on information to ranchers and farmers.  Communication among Westerners was enhanced by barbed wire.

  • Carol Feineman