This article examines the copious and creative advertisements various manufacturers employed to sell barbed wire in the decades after its invention. Barbed-wire poems, posters, trade cards, almanacs, and fliers constructed layers of meaning for the new fence. Barbed wire worked because it was dangerous, but only the earliest advertisements argued this directly. Instead, advertisements targeted fears and sensibilities of the consuming public, promising to protect against marauding Indians, newly freed slaves, aesthetes, and ballpark crashers. They advocated “American progress” and portrayed an ordered and secured domestic landscape. And, of course, they promised to control horses, cattle, and sheep. The focus on barbed-wire advertising affords a richly detailed look at beliefs and prejudices of Americans, at least as advertisers saw Americans, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

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