clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The telephone network that ran on barbed wire

New, 12 comments
Barbed wire (Wikipedia)
Barbed wire (Wikipedia)

We live in an age filled with reliable wireless phone service, but once upon a time people had to make do with nothing more than barbed wire. C. F. Eckhardt details the primitive yet functional system that ranchers in the west of the United States used to communicate around the turn of the 20th century. Any household telephone could be hooked up to the barbed wire fences, which were already in place to keep cattle contained on ranches. The biggest problem with the system, however, was the lack of an operator to direct calls: every phone connected to the network would ring whenever a call was placed. Despite the niggles, the system ultimately proved invaluable when it came to alerting fellow ranch owners to emergencies.