Wire is just about everywhere. It transmits electricity, brings us broadband, holds suspension bridges up and strings our musical instruments.
The ability to pull and refine metals and alloys into thin, flexible wire has allowed for a whole host of innovations. The first wire examples known to historians come from the 2nd dynasty of ancient Egypt, where golden wire was used in the manufacture of jewelry. It was made by pulling gold through a series of stone dies.
Here are four specialist kinds of wire that illustrate just how many different uses wire has. These are but four examples – there are hundreds of kinds of distinct wire.
Barbed wire first gained popularity in the expansionist period of the American West. It was used to fence in cattle farms and claim land from Native peoples. It became a huge seller after Joseph Gidden invented an automatic wire making machine in 1874. Barbed wire has a dark history. Our concepts surrounding it have been influenced by everything from World War One soldiers being ‘caught on the wire’ to the haunting images of Fikret Alik imprisoned by Serbs during the atrocities of the Yugoslav wars. The Poet WH Auden used barbed wire to analogously illustrate the borders, bureaucracies and violence that taint our world.
Baling wire is essential in recycling and modern agriculture. This thin wire is used to hold together bales of loose material like hay or waste. It is made of high carbon steel and typically has a loop on one end that can be used to tie the bale together. Workers often use special baling machines to actually tie the loop, which would otherwise be a rather fiddly and dangerous job. Baling wire is remarkably common, but unless you work in recycling it is likely that you will never have laid eyes upon any.
The world would be a very different place indeed without electrical wire. Electrical wire contains a conducting surface such as copper. This allows electricity to be conducted from one end of the wire to another, and allows for the transmission of signals.
We are absolutely surrounded by electrical wiring. It connects our lamps to power, winds in knots inside our computers and runs under the very streets we walk upon.
A favorite weapon of fictional mobsters, piano wire is usually used for more peaceful activities than garrotting. This thin, high carbon wire was originally developed in the 19th century in order to string new, high strength piano frames. It is a very demanding application for a wire – it needs to be strung at high tension and repeatedly hit with piano hammers. The length and tension of the wire within the piano dictate the pitch it makes when struck by the hammer. Piano wire is also used in modeling and sculpture, where the flexibility and strength it possesses comes in handy. It is commonly used to cut cheese and soap at markets in Europe.