Intriguing New Book Arrives from Former UST President, Joseph McFadden
Dr. Joseph M. McFadden, former president of University of St. Thomas from 1988 to 1997 and 2004, as well as professor emeritus of History, penned a compelling new book based on his intriguing doctoral dissertation titled, “Barbed Wire from Invention to Monopoly: The Story of American Style Capitalism in the Gilded Age.” This is a story of how a billion-dollar monopoly was created from the manufacture and sale of barbed wire in the Gilded Age.
Invention of Barbed Wire to Monopoly
According to the book cover, “The book is a fascinating, little-known part of American history. “Barbed Wire from Invention to Monopoly” is about pioneers, not in the American West, but pioneers of a different kind: the men who invented a new kind of fencing and built one of the first giant corporations to manufacture it. These pioneers were fierce competitors and shrewd businessmen. It involves companies like the “Beat ‘Em All Barb Wire Co.” and characters like Jerome W. “Bugs” Millington. The book is based on meticulous research involving hundreds of documents and letters as well as contemporary newspapers and journals.
How McFadden Became a Barbed-Wire Industry Expert
McFadden tells a funny story about how he came to be somewhat of an expert on barbed wire.
He earned his doctorate in history from Northern Illinois University. The first summer he attended, the only seminar offered was in Agricultural History. The professor took a liking to McFadden and said he had been waiting for someone to come along to write a history of the barbed wire industry. Lo and behold, the professor had saved papers from being incinerated in the library and offered them to McFadden as a head start on his doctorate. During the process, people would give him barbed wire because people thought he was a barbed wire expert. A farmer even came to visit him once and asked him to help identify a piece of barbed wire, which McFadden was able to do from his research.
“He thought I was a genius,” McFadden laughs. “Nonetheless, this story isn’t about barbed wire, but the industry that began in 1873 by the guy who invented the twisted, sharp-pointed wire. By 1899, he monopolized production and doubled the price. They manufactured 96% of all barbed wire. Their company became part of US Steel, the world’s first billion-dollar enterprise.”
How Capitalism Changed
“From their actions, capitalism became a search for monopolies,” McFadden said. “This story helps you understand the Progressive Era. This era stood for everything in America – opportunity and equality and now it was ‘out the window.’”
Faculty Peers Encouraged McFadden to Finally Write the Book
McFadden states that he had a couple of scholarly articles published on his research, but never would have written this book without the encouragement of his history professor peers, Dr. Lee Williams and Dr. Virginia “Ginger” Bernhard.
McFadden served as president of three universities during his career. “I never had time to write a book during those years. But Ginger and Lee wouldn’t let me quit,” McFadden said. “They kept pushing me to write the book. So, when I went back to the classroom and had a little more time, I began to write. That is how I finally got it published.
“This goes to show you how important friends are. You can’t do anything by yourself,” he said.
“Barbed Wire from Invention to Monopoly” is a book for the general reader as well as U.S. history and business courses at all levels. The book is available for sale on Amazon.