Educator Resources

Glidden's Patent Application for Barbed Wire

Teaching Activities

Standards Correlations

This lesson correlates to the National History Standards.

  • Era 6-The Development of the Industrial U.S. (1870-1900)
    • Standard 1C-Demonstrate understanding of how agriculture, mining, and ranching were transformed.

This lesson correlates to the National Standards for Civics and Government.

  • Standard I.B.4.-Explain and evaluate competing ideas regarding the relationship between political and economic freedoms.
  • Standard V.B.3.-Evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues regarding economic rights.

Cross-curricular Connections

Share this exercise with your history, government, economics, science, and language arts colleagues.

Analyzing the Document

  1. Divide students into pairs, and ask them to take turns "free-associating" or describing aloud any words or images they associate with barbed wire. Then ask them to discuss ways in which this object has become a symbol of the romance of the old West, war and destruction, and confinement.
  2. Project a transparency of the patent drawing on an overhead projector, read the written description aloud, and then ask the students the following questions: For whom was the drawing intended? Why was it created? What is the inventor actually seeking to patent? What are the strengths of the invention? How well does the written description depict the physical design and intended use? What aspects of the description need enhancement?
  3. Ask students to consider what skills were required for the inventor to design these improvements to wire and what skills were required to manufacture, market, and sell the product. Ask the students to connect these skills to professions and technical fields, and list them on the chalkboard. As an optional followup, ask some students to create advertisements for barbed wire. Help them locate a reproduction copy of a 19th-century Sears Roebuck catalog. Project copies of student designs and pages from the catalog that advertise barbed wire on an overhead projector, and ask the class to compare the two sets of designs.

Writing and Defining a Position

  1. Divide the class into four groups, and instruct each group to research and prepare a position on the invention as follows: first group, cowboys or herders; second, farmers; third, Native Americans; and fourth, wire manufacturers. Convene a community meeting to discuss the various viewpoints of each group regarding the safety, privacy, and other issues related to the invention.

Comparing Written and Visual Descriptions

  1. Ask students to write a description of an improvement for an object they use regularly in the classroom, such as a pencil sharpener, chalkboard, or desk. Pair the students, and instruct them to take turns reading the description aloud to their partners, who must draw their impressions of what the object looks like. Ask them to assess the accuracy of the results and to explore reasons why the visual and verbal descriptions matched or failed to match. Then discuss with the class why the patent office requires both written and visual descriptions of patent applications.

Relating Personal Experiences

  1. Collecting barbed wire is a popular hobby. The Barbed Wire Museum in Canyon, TX, has over 200 specimens of barbed wire in its collection. Ask your students what their encounters with barbed wire have been. Also ask them how they would account for the continued fascination with barbed wire.

Creative Interpretation

  1. Locate the words and a recording of Cole Porter's song "Don't Fence Me In." Ask the class to identify the point of view of the singer as you project the words from a transparency and play the recording. Ask students to translate the images raised by the songwriter in another medium, such as a drawing, pantomime, poem, or dance. Encourage some students to take another viewpoint related to the changes produced by barbed wire and to express those feelings in an appropriate medium.

Further Research Activity

  1. Ask for volunteers to research other inventions or improvements to inventions that significantly influenced the changing landscape of the American West, such as the rifle, six-shooter, telegraph, windmill, and locomotive. Arrange for these students to conduct a panel discussion for the class on the effects of these improvements on life in the West.

A larger image of the featured document is available through the National Archives Catalog.

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The online catalog is a searchable database that contains information about a wide variety of NARA holdings across the country. You can use the National Archives Catalog to search record descriptions by keywords or topics and retrieve digital copies of selected textual documents, photographs, maps, and sound recordings related to thousands of topics.

Currently, about 80% of NARA's vast holdings have been described in the National Archives Catalog. Thousands of digital images can be searched in the National Archives Catalog. In keeping with NARA's Strategic Plan, the percentage of holdings described in the National Archives Catalog will grow continually.

Ray, Emily and Wynell Schamel. "Glidden's Patent Application for Barbed Wire." Social Education61, 1 (January 1997): 52 - 55.

To find additional images of patent drawings, conduct a catalog search using "patent" as the keyword.

For more information about patents and inventors, visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Kids' Pages.