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Viewing Internet browsing history has many uses. You can do online research, keep track of idle surfing and prepare mental notes. While parental control solutions can achieve the same goal, the focus of this article is not surveillance. Instead, it is about gaining a bird’s eye view of the websites you surf.
Here are some of the best Internet history tracking apps you can use.1. History Viewer
History Viewer is a nicely-rated freeware which offers basic website and application tracking on Internet Explorer, Firefox and Google Chrome. Available only with Windows, the software is extremely lightweight at less than 2 MB.
With this, you can easily view every website, its cookies and your file histories. History Viewer works quietly in the background, so it is best to install if someone else is using your computer.2. Time Your Web
The extension also allows you to pause your history tracking whenever you want. Also, you can add ignoring rules for frequent websites you do not wish to track. You can see a summary of all the websites on a daily, weekly and monthly basis.
Overall, it is a pretty neat extension which gives the feeling of a microscope when it comes to your surfing activities.3. Activity Watch
Apart from Windows and Chrome, Activity Watch is also available as a Mozilla extension and measures the time you spend on each site in Firefox. It is an open-source Internet history tracker and remains free for all users.
Keep in mind that right now they do not have proper installers and packages for Linux users. You have to download the GitHub zip file and then follow the step-by-step config instructions at this link.
At the moment of this writing, the build for Windows and Mac is broken which may improve soon.4. RescueTime
RescueTime is a premium full-fledged software which helps you keep complete track of all your online activities. You can monitor all the applications and websites directly from the system tray. The software allows you to pause and resume tracking whenever you want. You can visit any of the forgotten websites from the dashboard itself.
A free light version is available which does the job perfectly. A premium version is available for $9 per month or $72 per year. There is a two-week free trial if you want to try out the extra features. One strength is “Focus,” which allows you to block all distracting sites for a certain number of minutes.
The Premium version also allows you to neatly categorize websites based on how distracting they are. Additionally, you may compare the times you spend on mobile phones with desktops.Summary
Sayak Boral is a technology writer with over eleven years of experience working in different industries including semiconductors, IoT, enterprise IT, telecommunications OSS/BSS, and network security. He has been writing for MakeTechEasier on a wide range of technical topics including Windows, Android, Internet, Hardware Guides, Browsers, Software Tools, and Product Reviews.
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Computers made digital reading possible for the first time, but it wasn’t until eReaders came along that it was considered preferable to getting a paper copy. eReaders do have finite battery life, but provide instant access to books and can store thousands of titles on a small device. Opting for e-ink displays means it’s easier on your eyes than colour screens, too.
But in the last few years, these devices have become about more than just reading. First it was taking notes, but now there are fully fledged tablets that use the technology.
To reflect that, this article isn’t all about Kindles and Kobos – the leading eReader brands. You’ll also find devices from reMarkable, Onyx and Huawei here, plus eReaders which support stylus input.
However, it’s also worth checking our FAQ section at the bottom of the page. If you only read occasionally, a smartphone or tablet might do the job just as well.Best eReader 2023
1. Kindle Paperwhite (2023) – Best Overall
Larger display with colour warmth
Longer battery life
Great Audible integration
Price rise compared to previous model
Charging not the fastest
Best Prices Today:
The latest Kindle Paperwhite (2023) takes the top spot once again thanks to a number of upgrades.
A larger screen that now has adjustable colour warmth previously exclusive to the Kindle Oasis is the main one here. But Amazon has also made other improvements such as battery life, plus finally switching to USB-C.
This comes at a slightly higher price than the last generation but it is justified and the Paperwhite won’t disappoint should you have enough budget to afford one.
It’s also worth considering the Paperwhite below, but the extra features won’t be worth it for most people.
Read our full
2. Kobo Clara 2E – Best Kobo
Lightweight and portable
IPX8 water resistance
Screen doesn’t sit flush
Can’t sync eBooks with audiobooks
The Kindle might dominate the eReader market, but it’s by no means the only option. Canadian company Rakuten Kobo are an alternative brand worth considering, and the Clara 2E is its best effort yet.
It adopts the same basic design as the Kindle Paperwhite, but includes some key features you won’t find on Amazon’s devices. The most notable is integration with OverDrive, which allows you to digitally borrow books from your local library free of charge. The Clara 2E also supports a wide range of different book formats and has Pocket support, allowing you to easily read articles from the web.
But despite these inconveniences, the Clara 2E is the best Kindle alternative.
Read our full
3. Kindle (2023) – Best Budget Model
Decent battery life
Hard to sideload content
Best Prices Today:
Amazon’s 2023 refresh of the base Kindle was an iterative update, but it includes a long overdue change: USB-C charging.
Alongside an improved display with backlighting and solid performance, it’s easier than ever to recommend if you’re considering a Kindle. Battery life is measured in weeks, while 16GB of storage is plenty for most people.
However, it’s not perfect by any means. There’s no waterproofing of any description, while the durable body is prone to scuffs. Kindles in general are mostly limited to the Kindle Store for content, while the likes of Kobos let you sideload easily.
4. Kobo Elipsa 2 – Best for Annotating
Great note-taking features
OverDrive and Pocket integration
Limited audiobook selection
The Elipsa 2E is arguably more capable than any other eReader, but that doesn’t mean it’s the one you should buy.
A crisp 10.3in display is great for writing notes and annotating any book using the included stylus, but less practical for travelling or before bed. It’s also much more expensive than the entries higher in this list.
But as an E Ink tablet designed for both reading and note-taking, the Elipsa 2E is unmatched. You can get books from the Kobo Store or import them via Dropbox, borrow eBooks from your local library or instantly read articles saved from the web to Pocket. Alongside impressive performance and solid battery life, Kobo is onto a winner here.
If you don’t mind a smaller audiobook selection than Amazon and no waterproofing, the Elipsa 2E is a superb eReader.
Read our full
5. Onyx Boox Note Air 2 Plus – Best for Apps
Full Google Play Store support
Slim, premium design
Only runs Android 11
Charging port blocked by case
Best Prices Today:
If you’re looking for an e-ink device but don’t want any software limitations, the Boox Note Air 2 Plus is for you.
It runs a full version of Android, meaning you can download all the same Google Play Store apps as a full colour tablet. Most apps still run on this older version of Android (11), although it has a very different look and feel to normal.
However, with a premium design, powerful note-taking experience and highly customisable display, the Air 2 Plus has a lot going for it. It’s a very smart device indeed, aside from the USB-C port being blocked when the folio case is applied.
The price tag is the other main reason to hesitate before buying one – it’s more expensive than almost all other e-ink tablets. But if you’re willing to pay top dollar, the Air 2 Plus is definitely worth considering.
6. Kindle Paperwhite Signature Edition (2023) – Best Premium Features
Stellar battery life
USB-C and wireless charging
Ineffective auto brightness
Some software inconsistencies
No 4G model
Best Prices Today:
New to the Paperwhite range is this Signature Edition which strikes a balance between the regular model and the premium Oasis.
While many specs are the same as the cheaper Paperwhite, this model has extras like auto-adjusting light sensors and wireless charging. With the same 6.8in screen, it’s debatable whether those are worth the extra money.
Still, it’s a solid eReader, especially if the Oasis – which hasn’t been updated since 2023 and adopts a very different design – isn’t for you.
Read our full
7. Kobo Libra H20 – Best Durability
The Libra H20 is an excellent eReader. It offers largely the same appealing design as the Forma, with a light chassis, chunky grip, textured back and IPX8 water resistance, as well a 300ppi screen and 8GB of storage.
But by compromising slightly on the size of that screen (at 7in) you can get the device for a far more manageable price tag.
Kobo’s eBook store remains unhelpful in terms of genre curation and user recommendations, but the Libra supports EPUB (so you can sideload free eBooks from Project Gutenberg) and OverDrive (so you can get eBooks from your local library). This is a great choice of eReader.
Read our full
8. Kindle Scribe – Best Big Screen
Large, high-quality screen
Great for reading
Excellent battery life
Poor note-taking experience
Hard to organise notes
Clunky Kindle software
Best Prices Today:
The Kindle Scribe is the first Kindle that can be used for note-taking, but it’s large screen that’s the big draw here. A 10.2in panel is much larger than most e-ink devices, and it offers a better reading experience than similarly-sized devices in this list.
If you want to fit more text on a page or read comics and magazines, this is the Kindle for you.
However, Amazon is pitching the Scribe as a device for taking notes. That is possible thanks to the included pen, which works very well for writing or diagrams.
Unfortunately, there are still some big issues on the software side. The Kindle software is already limited when it comes to reading, but its shortcomings are even more pronounced here. Amazon doesn’t allow to to write directly onto books (only PDFs), with only clunky sticky notes instead. The notebook section also needs work.
It’s a great Kindle for reading, but most people can get that from a device that’s significantly cheaper.
Read our full Amazon Kindle Oasis (2023) review
9. ReMarkable 2 – Best for Note-taking
Thin and light design
Great pen input
Excellent software support
Pen sold separately
Best features require subscription
The ReMarkable 2 was first released back in 2023, but several software updates have improved the experience since then.
Its primary focus is note-taking rather than reading books (although it can do both), with a large 10.3in display and excellent pen support. However, the compatible stylus is sold separately.
But ReMarkable’s stripped-back software experience is one of the big reasons why it’s so good. The tablet runs on a custom version of Linux, offering extensive customisation and easy exporting to other devices via the companion app.
However, the latter is one of several features exclusive to the $2.99/£2.99 per month ReMarkable Connect subscription. Considering its already high price tag in comparison to other e-ink devices, the ReMarkable 2 is only right for certain people.
Read our full
10. Huawei MatePad Paper – Best Display
Excellent, larger screen
Small native book selection
Specced much more like a conventional Android tablet, as opposed to a dedicated eReader, Huawei’s debut E Ink-based slate offers the largest display in this lineup and includes a few standout features that you won’t find elsewhere too.
For a start, that 10.3in E Ink touch-responsive panel serves up a respectable 227ppi, paired to a backlight with 32 brightness levels and if you add in the company’s second-generation M-Pencil stylus, the MatePad Paper becomes a serious note-taking device too, with a respectable 26ms of latency and integrated handwriting to text conversion.
The main caveat here isn’t really to do with the Paper’s hardware, so much as the lack of compatible reading experiences up for grabs on the Harmony OS-based software out the box. Huawei’s own Books app is a little light on content, so you’ll have to spend more time side-loading supported media (including ePub and PDF files) than you do on competing eReaders.
At least 64GB of storage for all your media, plus up to 28 days of battery life per charge.
Read our full
1.Why should I use an eReader instead of a tablet?
There are plenty of reasons why investing in a dedicated eReader is a good idea. They’re a lot cheaper than most, for example, and they’re simply a better tool for digital reading. They can be lighter than a book, yet store thousands of books, so you can read your way through a fortnight-long holiday just by taking your eReader along.
The E Ink device vs tablet debate is more complicated when it comes to note-taking, but the lack of distractions on the former is something you might prefer.
2.What type of display should I go for?
Most eReaders have displays between 6-8in, although some go a little bigger. Devices designed for note-taking often have screens larger than 10in, but Kindles and Kobo’s focused only on eBooks and audiobooks don’t go bigger than 7in.
E Ink screens look much like paper and are easier on the eyes than the colour LCD or OLED panels of a phone or tablet. It also shouldn’t stop you from going to sleep like the bright lights emitted from colour displays, although the science surrounding the benefits of e-ink displays isn’t conclusive.
3.How good is the battery life on eReaders?
Compared to phones, tablets and laptops, battery life is much better on dedicated eReaders and e-ink devices. It’s usually measured in page turns rather than hours.
So while your tablet could conk out halfway home, creating a genuine cliffhanger at the most inopportune point within your novel, an eReader could keep going for weeks or even months without needing a recharge.
4.Do eReaders have backlights?
Most, but not all. However, do be aware that those with built-in backlights won’t last as long between charges, but it may be worth it if you often read in dark environments.
5.What content do I need to access?
Content is an important consideration, as your device may be restricted to its manufacturer’s own bookstore. For example, Kindle eReaders are limited to Amazon’s admittedly very well-stocked online bookstore, while Kobo eReaders let you browse other stores.
Many devices also let you play audiobooks. Read our Kindle Store vs Kobo Store comparison to find out more.
6.What type of files work on eReaders?
A memory card can boost the storage capacity for ebooks and, if supported, music, video and other media. Be sure to check which file formats a device supports – not just media, but also whether it can handle EPUB, PDF, TXT, RTF and other document file types.
Kindles don’t support officially epub, but there’s still a way to put epub ebooks onto a Kindle.
7.What connectivity do I need?
While your device will probably hold more than enough books to keep you occupied until you’re next in range of a Wi-Fi hotspot, a cellular connection will allow you to download content on the move. However, be aware that it will also add to the device’s price.
Comic Books have always been a beloved part of modern entertainment along with movies, TV shows, and novels. However, earlier they only used to serve a niche market, with only the truest of the fans. But, things have changed since the last few years. Movies based on comics have been reigning supreme on the box offices around the world, and now even the mainstream consumers are interested in reading them. To the uninitiated, digital comic books generally come in a CBR or CBZ format. These contain comic book pages in image formats like PNG, JPEG, BMP, and GIF. These pages are stored in compressed archive format, so that a reader can view them in a sequential manner. To open these files, you need apps which can read these formats.1. YAC Reader
For me, YAC Reader has always been the best comic book reader available on Mac. Apart from Mac, it is also available for Windows and Linux. YAC Reader is the complete package as far as comic readers are concerned. It supports a wide variety of file types including RAR, ZIP, CBR, CBZ, TAR, and PDF among others. It also supports various view formats. You can view your comics in a single or double page mode, full-screen mode or you can customize the size as per your liking. You can change the background colour and also change the page scrolling effects.
Install: (Free)2. Simple Comic
Simple Comic has been one of the best CBR readers for Mac since so long that I don’t even remember installing it. This used to be one of the first software I installed on a new Mac. For now, YAC Reader might have taken the first spot, but that does not mean that this one is any less. It also supports all the major file formats and you can view your comics in single/double page mode, full-screen mode or the thumbnail mode. The thumbnail mode comes in really handy when you want to quickly jump between the pages. One of my favourite features is the capture tool which allows you to take a screenshot of a page and directly saves it in JPG format. It makes it very easy to share your favourite pages with your friends.
Install: (Free)3. DrawnStrips Reader
This is the first paid app on our list. It’s really hard to justify including a paid app on the list when the first two spots are held by free apps. So, there are only two reasons you should consider while making the decision to buy this app. Firstly, this app was designed keeping the retina display on the Mac in mind. This means that when you are reading a comic on Macs with retina displays, this will give you the best possible picture quality. Secondly, this is one of the few comic reading apps which truly goes full-screen. There’s no top bar, no navigation symbols, not anything. Once you go full-screen, your comics are all that you will see. This together with its higher quality for retina displays will provide you with a truly immersive environment. If that’s important, you should surely buy this one.
Install: ($3.99)4. ComicNerd
Install: ($14.99)5. Sequential 2
Install: (Free)Use These CBR Readers for Mac to Enjoy Your Favourite Comics
Buying the best Chromebook accessories
Eric Zeman / Android Authority
Chromebooks are laptops that run Google’s Chrome OS. It’s an operating system that revolves around the Chrome browser and its apps. These devices offer a light computing experience in comparison to traditional laptops.
As such, Chromebooks are often very limited. They can often have small screens, limited storage, weak speakers, and even below-average battery life. That’s where the accessories come in.
The best Chromebook accessories you can buy right now
Editor’s note: This list of the best Chromebook accessories will be updated regularly as new products launch.
2. The best keyboard for Chromebooks: Brydge C-Type Chrome OS Keyboard
While some of the most expensive Chromebooks have excellent keyboards, the truth is many of them lack in this department. A quality keyboard can be one of the best Chromebook accessories you can spend your hard-earned cash on, especially if you will be typing extensively. There are three main factors to consider when picking the right Chromebook keyboard: it needs to look good, feel even better, and it should have all the dedicated Chrome OS keys.
See also: The best keyboards you can buy
Our favorite is the Brydge C-Type Chrome OS Keyboard. It’s sleek and beautifully designed, made with one-piece aluminum construction, comfortably spaced keys, and a small profile to keep it portable. It can also connect both via USB-C or Bluetooth 4.1. The manufacturer also claims an insane six-month battery life.
3. The best monitor for Chromebooks: ASUS ZenScreen 15.6-inch
The ASUS Zenscreen 15.6-inch is one of the best monitors you can get for your Chromebook. And the best part is the 15.6-inch screen monitor is very portable, so it can be used both at home or taken wherever you need it.
Next: The best monitors for work and play you can get
It connects to your device using a USB-C port. It has a low power consumption of 8W, so it won’t take too much out of your Chromebook’s battery life. It also comes with a stand to prop it up during usage and even has a tripod mount socket. It’s a 1080p resolution screen, which is sufficient for this screen size.
4. SD cards for Chromebooks: Plenty of choices!
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
Storage is important, and Chrome OS laptops don’t often have much of it. Many have SD card slots, though! Any SD card with faster speeds should work, but the issue is there are way too many kinds of SD cards out there.
Our recommendation would be to check the standard that the SD card slot on your Chromebook supports and pick accordingly. If you really want a recommendation, we are fans of SanDisk and Samsung cards. Check out our link below to read more about them.
5. The best laptop bag for Chromebooks: Peak Design Everyday Sling 10L
This 10-liter bag looks and feels top-notch. It is also very handy, as it can fit a 13-inch laptop, which means it is one of the best Chromebook accessories unless you are rocking one of the few larger Chrome OS computers.
6. The best laptop cover for Chromebooks: Amazon Basics Laptop Sleeve
Maybe you already have a bag you love to use but still need some added protection. The thing with laptop bags is that there’s often some wiggle room for your laptop to move around. This can potentially lead to your Chromebook taking some damage in case of a hard bump or fall. A laptop sleeve would help in that case.
Here: These are the best Chromebook cases and covers
While our guide linked above gives you a host of Chromebook covers and case options, our recommendation would be the Amazon Basics Laptop Sleeve. As the name suggests, it’s pretty basic. It gets the job done at a meager price, with no bells and whistles. It’s available in many sizes and can be purchased in a variety of color options. You can also check out our link below if you want something a little nicer!
7. The best docking hub for Chromebooks: Uni USB-C Hub
What makes this one of the best Chromebook accessories is its ability to expand your laptop experience to use other accessories. As mentioned before, if you plan on using your Chromebook at the desk or if you want more functionality on the go, a docking hub is worth the investment.
Also read: The best USB-C adapters
The Uni USB-C hub is a pretty solid pick. This little gadget can charge your USB-C device, all while adding ports your computer may lack. It includes a microSD card reader, an SD card reader, a couple of USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI port, and an ethernet port. It’s also small and portable, which means you can take your expandability on the go.
9. The best speaker for Chromebooks: JBL Charge 5
Another department Chromebooks (or laptops in general) are usually not the top contenders in is audio. A good speaker will prove to be one of the best Chromebook accessories you can get, and the JBL Charge 5 is one of our favorites. It’s a follow-up to the excellent JBL Charge 4, which was our previous recommendation.
More: These are the best Bluetooth speakers
The Charge 5 is a great speaker for indoor and outdoor use. It comes with an IP67 rating, which means a lot of dust and water protection. While it can take on the outdoors rather well, this rating adds to the overall durability even if you’re a lighter user. It promises up to 20 hours of battery life. It’s not the lightest speaker and is the approximate shape and weight of a football. However, the balance of price, performance, and practicality is rather solid.
10. The best battery pack for Chromebooks: Krisdonia 50,000mAh Portable Charger
A good way to keep your mobile devices juiced up is by getting a portable power bank. You can’t just grab any battery pack and expect it to charge up your Chromebook laptop, though. You will need a bit more power for that, and the Krisdonia 50,000mAh Portable Charger has it. Not to mention it sports a massive 50,000mAh battery.Buying the best Chromebooks
Now that you have a feel for the best Chromebook accessories to buy, you might want to take a look at the best Chromebooks you can buy, especially if you’re still shopping for one. Here are some of our favorite Chromebook picks:
The best Chromebook tablets you can buy
Best Chromebooks for students
The best touchscreen Chromebooks you can buy
A: Yes, you can charge a Chromebook with a power bank, provided you get one with a sufficient enough output wattage.
I recently wrote a guest post on why Common Sense is so vital within any SEO campaign as, unfortunately, this is something that seems to be dwindling in recent generations. So following on from that slightly, I want to discuss how the power of the internet has greatly affected lives across the globe; simply by misusing what is the most powerful tool today.
Here are some funny, sad and downright stupid examples of why the Internet must be used wisely.
Facebook: The number one passion killer.
Since the arrival of Facebook and the word got around, it’s since overtaken Google as the most visited website in the world. For the most part, people use it for chatting, the occasional profile snoop and of course, organising intimate social events in the wide open space of the worldwide web.
Unfortunately, some people have decided that they’d rather use the website to pick up dates, which is fine; except when they are already ‘In a Relationship’.
Recent studies have shown that many marriages have ended in divorce due to Facebook infidelity. Whether it’s by finding previous love interests or simply striking up new ones by ‘Poking’ ‘Lol’ing or ‘Liking’, the truth is the number of people thinking they are being discreet (again by using the WORLD wide web) are rudely mistaken. Private messages and outright flirting via Facebook has decreased trust within relationships and increased the legal fees for divorce lawyers.
So, next time you wish to ‘Poke’ the boy from school who always had lovely blue eyes and borrowed a pencil from you in Maths, think of your partner on the sofa next to you, probably snoring, farting or both, and perhaps weigh up whether it’s really worth it?
The YouTube Success: “Leave the Camera Alone!!”
You may not know the names Chris Crocker, or the kid from Trois-Rivieres, Quebec, or even Harry and Charlie. But I bet if I mentioned “Leave Britney Alone!”, Star Wars Kid and “Charlie bit my finger!” you’d all know exactly what videos I was talking about.
As annoying it is to know who these people are, they prove outright what power the internet has over the destiny of some people in the world. Whether or not you yourself have seen these videos, you’ll most certainly have heard someone talking about them; most likely from watching Channel 4’s RudeTube.
The sad thing is, they haven’t just had their 15 minutes of fame – they are online for life. So next time you think about uploading a video or your friend skateboarding with a firework in his back pocket, maybe just rethink about the consequences and keep in mind the mental affect this will have on your future children.
Call a Doctor: Or just get an online Medical diagnosis
Even i f you are normally a rational person in everyday life, finding something abnormal on your body may spur irrational panic. Unfortunately, this is where every computer should be buried and never dug back up.
Sadly more often than not the first thing people do is log on, type in the abnormality and self-diagnose their rash, lump or spot; often with frightening consequences.
Whether you know of a ‘reliable’ website or not, the internet is the worst place to turn when calmness is required; it’s likely to provoke the complete opposite. If you are ever in doubt in regards to your health, go old school and pick up the phone, make a doctor’s appointment or if in a real emergency, get down A&E rather than relying on Wikipedia.
Email: To, CC, BCC and downright foolishness.
We’ve all done it. Sent an email to the wrong person and then sent a follow up email explaining that we’ve sent it to the wrong person; just in case they didn’t know.
However, there has been recent news in the UK of two men being suspended from their place of work due to emails regarding one of their female flatmates.
Harry and Sebastian swapped emails discussing Jenni, the ex-girlfriend and current flatmate of Harry. Sebastian was interested in dating Jenni and was finding out if Harry would mind. Unfortunately Harry CC’d Jenni in on the emails in which he used offensive language to describe her and the fact they didn’t get on.
As with everything online, it didn’t take much for this to then go viral which then led to the suspension.
Lesson learnt; if you don’t want the whole world to know what you think of someone – don’t put it in black and white.
So, whether you want instant fame and to be mocked in a satirical episode of a new 20th Century Fox cartoon, or like to feel the fear of dying from what is actually prickly heat rash, then the internet is the perfect tool to carry on using without common sense. However for those of us that are mostly sane, we’ll keep using it for finding great holiday deals, arranging house viewings and researching the latest Jamie Oliver recipe.
I hope I’ve highlighted just some of the misuses of the internet and I promise you there will be more; just make sure it’s not you I’m reading about next, please.
This post has been updated. It was originally published on April 11, 2023.
There are more than 700 steel knots in The “Bobbed Wire” Bible, Jack Glover’s “illustrated guide to identification and classification” of barbed wire. They have names like Scutt’s Wooden Block, Greenbriar, Glidden Union Pacific, and the J. Brotherton Parallel. Scrupulously updated and republished by Cow Puddle Press starting in the 1960s, the bible—like the rest of barbed wire’s history—is one-part Americana and one-part innovation. Glover’s book and similar materially-specific compendiums (the Barbed Wire: Identification Encyclopedia comes to mind) document the minutiae of fencing materials and techniques. But these texts are also treasure chests of historical and cultural insight; behind each illustration is an inventor, a time, place, and origin story.
Because that’s the thing about barbed wire: It’s a physical object—you could hold it in your hand if it wasn’t so sharp—but it’s also an idea.The use of barbed wire in the West
The American frontier was never actually empty. Native Americans have lived on the land for at least 15,000 years. The evidence is clear, from the Mesa Verde Dwellings in Colorado to the millions of indigenous people still living in the southwest today. But white settlers, unleashed on the landscape by Abraham Lincoln’s Homestead of Act of 1862, which gave each citizen the right to claim 160 acres of public land, certainly treated it that way. As they worked their way west, they sought to clear the land of its human and non-human inhabitants, and exert control over the dirt that remained. One of the most practical challenges these families faced was drawing boundaries—keeping people, crops, and cattle in (or out).
With too few trees to build wooden fences, and walls of prickly vegetation too slow to grow, some enterprising settlers began tinkering with wire. But there was one major problem: “[W]hen a wire fence was placed between a 1,000-pound Texas longhorn and a patch of lush green pasture, it proved to be something of a pushover,” writes George Pendel in his Atlas Obscura article on the barbed wire mecca of La Crosse, Kansas. That’s where the barbs came in. According to Atlas, the U.S. Patent Office processed more than 200 different patents for various types of “spiked fencing” between 1867 and 1874. The contraptions varied widely, from lines alternating spikes and wooden boards, to sheets of wood studded with spikes. But Lucien Smith is credited with making the first barbed wire prototypes, which he called “thorny wire.”
Barbed wire production took off in the early 1900s once machines allowed it to be made at scale. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
That answers the questions of who invented barbed wire and when was barbed wire invented. The trouble was that all of these products were made by hand. It wasn’t until 1874, when Illinois farmer Joseph Glidden emerged victorious from patent battle over a mechanically-produced fencing material that barbed wire could be made at scale. Glidden’s machine pulled two strands of wire tight around the barb, then wound the wires together around the regularly-spaced spikes. Just two years later, Glidden’s company was making 3 million pounds of the stuff each year, making Glidden a quick and sizable fortune. Other speculators won big on barbed wire, too. John Warne Gates, better known as “Bet-A-Million Gates,” went from selling the poky product to manufacturing “moonshine” (or unpatented) wire himself. His company was acquired by U.S. Steel, where barbed wire would make robber baron J.P. Morgan even richer.
Mass-production sent homesteaders on a fencing spree. Previously, the design podcast 99 Percent Invisible explains, the “law of open range” prevailed out west. As cowboys drove their cattle to sale, the herd could crisscross the land, drinking water and grazing as they went. But barbed wire restricted cattle’s access to streams and rivers. And it was everywhere. By 1885, the entire Texas panhandle was already fenced, according to the Texas State Historical Association, creating a patchwork of privately-owned lands, each wrapped in a barbed wire bow. The effect on wildlife was quick and catastrophic: In a review article for the The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Wayne Gard described “leathery longhorns … crazed by thirst.” Native Americans called barbed wire “devil’s rope”, because it ensnared wild buffalo. (Like cattle, they struggled to see the thin wire lines before they were wrapped up in it.) Trapped, they died of hunger or thirst, or succumbed from infection as their barbed wounds festered.
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Humans weren’t exempt from barbed wire’s wrath. From the earliest days, it’s been marketed as a tool of oppression and control. “Companies promoting barbed wire fencing used imagery in their promotional materials that played on familiar prejudices of the day,” Rebecca Onion writes in her political history of barbed wire for Slate. “[F]armers and ranchers interested in buying knew that they could keep Native Americans, black people, children, beasts owned by others, and poor people out with the new invention.” It persists in prisons, concentration camps both historical and terribly contemporary, and border walls, which continue to threaten wildlife today).The making and significance of barbed wire today
Barbed wire’s biggest use hasn’t changed, though. Charlie Rugh is the vice president of sales and marketing for the San Antonio Steel Company. “The primary goal was to fence in cattle,” he says, but “it’s a lot more diverse now.” Specifically, people aren’t just fencing in cows, but horses, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, and even exotic animals like bison, elk, or deer. This has forced a big shift over the last 50 to 75 years, Rugh says, stimulating new innovations in an old industry.
SASCO, for example, sells fixed knot fences, which is barb-free but strong enough to hold up on widely-spaced posts; horse fence with tight 2-by-4 inch spacing to keep hooves from getting stuck; and, of course, five variations of classic barbed wire, which remains crucial, in Rugh’s words, for “keeping 1,500 pound animals off the highways and byways and motorways.”
These wires are more durable than ever, thanks to two big developments. First, in the 1980s, manufacturers began developing high-tensile barbed wire, Rugh says. They mix steel with a miniscule amount of carbon fiber for more flexibility, without compromising strength. By exposing polymers to high heat, scientists can forcibly crystallize carbon molecules, concentrating them at unusual densities, while keeping substances light.“You’re getting a wire that weighs half as much, but performs the same if not better,” Rugh says. And because it’s lighter, it’s also cheaper, making it more appealing to farmers who struggle to keep their agricultural operations profitable.
Wire rods were used for the production of spiked fencing. Photo: Department of Transportation National Archives and Records Administration
Then, in the early 2000s, Rugh says, the industry turned its focus to new methods for galvanizing the steel, the better to ward off rust. The best barbed wire is now coated in a mixture that’s 95 percent aluminium and 5 percent zinc. “That’s been used in utility wires, stranded cable, and things like that. And they’ve begun to transfer that to ag wire,” Rugh says. While conventional Class I barbed wire lasts seven to 10 years and the Class III galvanized products on the market can keep up to 20 or 30 years, the zinc/aluminum-coated cables could last on the order of 50 years, at least according to salt spray tests designed to see how these products stand up to the elements.
Despite its evolution in the American west, the biggest innovations in barbed wire are coming from other shores. “A lot of the fencing technology and improvements have always developed in Australia and in New Zealand,” Rugh says. “The North American market has lagged behind and been slower to adopt these new technologies.”
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But barbed wire’s cultural resonance has persisted in the US. There are barbed wire museums, competitions, even an Antique Barbed Wire Society. Mostly, though, it provides structural support to the myth of the wild West: an endless expanse for the taking, a dangerous template for conquest that’s been transposed from California to other countries, the internet, and even outer space.
In his 1949 post-war poem Memorial for the City, W.H. Auden used barbed wire as a recurrent motif—a symbol for borders, bureaucracy, and violence. “Barbed wire proclaims that you are kept out or kept in, and, when you resist, it rips you,” he wrote. “Other barriers weather, crumble, grow moss; wire merely rusts, and keeps its sting.” For many people, that’s the appeal.
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