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Local Lore lecture honors wives of ‘Barbed Wire Barons’

DeKALB – Although Isaac Ellwood, Joseph Glidden and Jacob Haish are recognized names in the community for their contributions to creating and manufacturing barbed wire, a lecture Friday at the Ellwood House Museum featured the women supporting these local figures.

The museum’s second annual Local Lore lecture series opened with presentations on Harriet Ellwood, Lucinda Glidden and Sophia Haish in keeping with March being Women’s History Month.

Jessi Haish LaRue, a descendant of Jacob Haish, talked about the “Barbed Wire Baron’s” wife, Sophia, during the event and said it was important that she wasn’t simply recognized as the wife of an inventor.

Although Jacob Haish did develop his own design for barbed wire, Sophia was herself an inventor and had her own patent for improvements to the safety pin.

“To have the idea and the money to be listed as an inventor is really incredible, and I like to think that Sophia has the entrepreneurial mind, just like her husband,” LaRue said.

Because they didn’t have children, the Haishes’ fortune went to the community, most notably into the construction of the Haish Memorial Library in downtown DeKalb.

They also contributed to, in addition to Isaac Ellwood and Joseph Glidden, making DeKalb the home of Northern Illinois State Normal School, which would later become Northern Illinois University.

Tricia Runzel, curator of education and interpretation at the museum, discussed Harriet Ellwood, who, unlike the other women, was a DeKalb County native.

Runzel said that in her research, it might have been Harriet who ultimately conceded that her husband’s design for barbed wire was inferior to Glidden’s, leading to the two men’s partnership.

“Supposedly, people should thank Harriet for that,” Runzel said.

Runzel added that Harriet also was known as the “unknown giver,” as many anonymous donations to local charities supposedly were given by her.

Glidden Homestead Executive Director Rob Glover gave the presentation on Lucinda Glidden.

Glover said that although she didn’t have a direct role in the development of her husband’s barbed wire design, Glidden’s hairpins often were used by her husband in modeling his design.

Using the profits from the manufacturing of barbed wire, the Gliddens built the Glidden House Hotel in downtown DeKalb, where they eventually moved.

After the lecture, the museum displayed various items related to the three women, including china hand-painted by Harriet Ellwood, a tablecloth belonging to Lucinda Glidden and a cane with Sophia Haish’s name on it and her wedding band inscribed at the bottom.

Local Lore lectures will continue once a month through November and feature a different presentation related to DeKalb County’s history. A full schedule of events is available at

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