The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas is devoted solely to the history and legend of this part of American history often referred to as the “Devils Rope”. On exhibit are over 2000 barbed wire varieties; including samples manufactured between the years 1870 and 1890. Hundreds of antique fencing tools illustrate the inventiveness of pioneers.
The museum presents interesting ways to learn about one of the midwest's most important contributions to America's history. Dioramas of early barbed wire use, a theatre featuring educational films, the Barbed Wire Hall of Fame, the museum archives room, and a research library all help to conjure up images of settling the midwest, range wars between homesteaders and cattlemen, and the transformation of the open prairie into America's bread basket.
The story of the Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association actually begins on May 17, 1964 with the dedication of the Post Rock Museum in LaCrosse, Kansas. Displayed on the wall above the model quarry was a small, unassuming collection of 40 barbed fence wires. During the first years, museum workers discovered that a growing number of visitors were inquiring about the small collection. Many of these visitors had collections of their own, some much larger than the museum’s meager sampling. A bit of research determined that, not only were there hundreds of varieties of this peculiar fencing material, there were a lot of people who collected it. Opportunity was knocking.
By 1966, the barbed wire hobby, in an organized state, was still in its infancy. A collector’s association had been organized in Texas, a few books had been published, and a history professor had recently been interviewed in the “Wichita Eagle.” According to the “Eagle”, Dr. Ross Taylor, head of the Department of American Civilization at Wichita State University, was a researcher of the history of barbed wire as well as an avid barbed wire collector. The news story brought to light that not only was barbed wire an interesting collectors’ item, it was also a credible part of American history.
With all this interest in barbed wire, three visionary LaCrosse businessmen decided it was time to seize an opportunity. The men met in the office of a local attorney and, over a cup of coffee, discussed bringing collectors of this intriguing fencing material together with the intent of establishing a barbed wire collecting organization in Kansas. The men were: Ivan Krug, LaCrosse attorney; Roy Ehly, Southwestern Bell Telephone manager; and Bill Robbins, local banker. In December 1966, Krug sent a letter to collectors announcing an organizational meeting to be held in January.
On Sunday, January 8, 1967 a group of barbed wire collectors met at the LaCrosse Country Club. There were 68 persons in attendance from throughout Kansas and Oklahoma including “the man who invented the machine to mass produce barbed wire.” During the meeting, collectors were given the opportunity to display their collections, discuss the hobby, and swap pieces of barbed wire. Along with ten collections of barbed wire, displays included wire tools, fence tighteners, and what was described as a very special item – a cane made of barbed wire.
That afternoon the Kansas Barbed Wire Collectors Association (KBWCA) was born, the second association of its kind in the United States. The first officers elected were: Ivan Krug, president; Roy Ehly, vice-president; and Bill Robbins, secretary-treasurer. Directors included: Hal Moody, St. George; Francis Cox, Grainfield; Don Wigington, Quinter; Leo Schugart, Hoisington; and Don Stites, Grinnell.
Over the next decade, the museum continued to grow, but the hobby began to change. Many of the original collectors had passed away and several others were no longer able to travel to the several wire shows held each year across the country. The need became apparent for an international association dedicated to the preservation of the hobby. An organizational meeting was held in Dodge City, Kansas and the Antique Barbed Wire Society (ABWS) was born. A home base was needed for the new society and LaCrosse became the obvious choice.
The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum and the ABWS continue to receive new artifacts for their collections. Thanks to the Internet, the hobby is discovering a previously unknown network of collectors throughout the world. Today, over 40 years later, wire collectors still come from across the United States and occasionally other countries to spend the first weekend in May swapping and selling those 18 inch pieces of American history called Barbed Wire. That ingenious invention designed as a barrier to separate people, now brings them together. Copyright of the Kansas Barbed Wire Museum, LaCrosse, Kansas
Groups are always welcome. We can comfortably accomodate groups of most any size. We provide a variety of guided tour options and can tailor your tour to the to the age level and interests of your group. We are also happy to coordinate your visit with the local historical museums, or other area attractions. There is no admission fee, but the museum requests an honorarium for guided tours. Call the museum office at 785-222-9900 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to the attention of Museum Tours Coordinator.
Veteran barbed wire collectors and museum staff are always willing to present programs for your school or organization. We offer a variety of programs including Power Point presentations and hands-on displays. Costs are minimal and include mileage and a small honorarium for the presenter. For those interested in starting their own barbed wire collections, we can sponsor workshops and hands-on demonstrations
The Kansas Barbed Wire Museum is in process of developing a variety of educational kits and materials available for loan to educators. Contact the Museum Education Coordinator for more information.