DeKALB – DeKalb-area residents, including relatives of Jacob Haish, gathered to see the unveiling of the plaque commemorating his legacy within agriculture and the community Saturday morning outside of the DeKalb Public Library, 309 Oak St.
Haish was known as a carpenter and architect and designed some prominent homes in the area, including the Isaac and Harriet Ellwood house. Years later, he became one of the early inventors of barbed wire and received the patent for barbed wire in 1874.
Shortly after, Haish sued Joseph Glidden for infringing on his patent, and the case was settled in 1892.
At the beginning of World War I, Haish was offered a deal to sell the patent for barbed wire for use in the war.
Dr. Jeffrey Chown, a communications professor at Northern Illinois University, said that although the deal could’ve been lucrative, Haish refused to sell the patent because the original intent for barbed wire was for agricultural use only.
“He just nurtured a lot of the community,” Chown said. “He did not take the money and run.”
Several city and state leaders, including DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith and state Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Hinckley, spoke at the event.
Pritchard commended groups such as the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association for putting up plaques around the area, such as the one commemorating Haish.
“As we enter the [Illinois] bicentennial, that’s especially important that we remember someone like Jacob Haish, who has ties to agriculture, has ties to innovation, was a great philanthropist here in the DeKalb area, and sets a good role model for all of us,” Pritchard said.
Pritchard has his own personal ties with the area, such as being from the same area in which Haish lived and farmed.
“That’s a connection that I value,” Pritchard said.
Before the unveiling, Chown said several NIU graduate students created the documentary “Barbed Wire Pioneers” in 1998, which touches on the contributions of Haish, Joseph Glidden and Isaac Ellwood in the invention of barbed wire.
DeKalb library director Emily Faulkner also addressed the crowd, telling a story about how she first learned about Haish’s legacy.
She said she grew up on Haish Boulevard, and since she knew a lot of streets in DeKalb were named after U.S. presidents, as a child she assumed Haish was a president. After a couple of chuckles came from the crowd, Faulkner elaborated that although Haish was not a president, she was pleased to honor his legacy and what he gave the community, including the $150,000 he left for the DeKalb library in his will.
“Without his love for learning, this would be a very different place,” Faulkner said.
Although Haish did not have any children of his own, several surviving relatives from his siblings’ family lines who still live in the DeKalb area attended the unveiling.
Jeff Marshall, one of Haish’s great-great-great nephews, thinks Haish not having children might have been a reason why he gave so much to the community.
“He earned his livelihood here, he earned his money here, and [he’s] an example of how you can give back and how long-lasting it can be,” said Sue Breese, DeKalb County historian, director of the Joiner History Room at Founders Memorial Library at Northern Illinois University, and DAAHA board member.
DeKalb resident Jennie Marshall Cummings was one of Haish’s descendants who attended the event. Haish was her great-great-great uncle. She said it “means a great deal” that Haish’s legacy still is honored in the community.
“It’s a great honor that the plaque has been put up and that there are still cousins around to be here,” Cummings said.
She said it means a lot to her to go around town and see a hospital wing, gym or library with Haish’s name on it. She said Haish had a great effect on the community and continues to do so.
“It’s a lot to live up to,” Cummings said.
Marshall said he couldn’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t interested in his genealogy, and he said he became the “family depository” once he started using genealogy computer programs to keep track of his lineage.
“It’s been something that’s been part of my history, and I want to share it and keep it going,” Marshall said. “I don’t want people to forget.”