Baker Barb Wire vs. Knights of Labor

George C. Baker of Polk City, Iowa, invented Baker Barbed Wire, manufactured it in Des Moines, and before too long it was the world’s largest manufacturer of barbed wire.

Barbed wire was a significant revolution for farmers. Prior to the use of barbed wire, fences were made from hand split oak rails or by trimming an Osage Orange hedge. But certainly the contribution of barbed wire to American agriculture is most noticeable in the open prairie ranges of the west.The lifestyle of the cowboy was ended by barbed wire.

The Baker Wire Company covered the whole square block from First and Second and from Vine to Market. The company operated 20 barbing machines for 10 hours a day, 6 days a week. They paid the laborers $1.50 a day. The first real labor dispute in Des Moines occurred at the Baker Wire plant.

In the 1870’s the concept of labor unions were spreading around the country. One such union was the Knights of Labor. Baker Wire let the employees know that this was something they were not to become involved with. However, they did, and when they showed up for work on Monday morning after a meeting they were fired.

The Knights of Labor rose to the defense of the workers, solicited the support of the farmers' Grange, and created a boycott of Baker wire. After a couple of months the dealers of Baker Wire started shipping the barbed wire back because no one would buy it. The company reconsidered its position, restored the men to their jobs, and business resumed. Baker Wire Company was eventually sold and moved out of the state.