Monday, June 6, 2011

Apple #528: Chain Link Fencing

(Photo by the Apple Lady)

Because what goes better with disco balls than chain link fences?

No, the real reason I'm doing an entry on this topic is because I received a request! Regular Daily Apple Reader Dan wanted to know about chain link fences. "It's so ubiquitous now, but when did it start to be that way? When was it invented? I would like to know."

Well, Regular Reader Dan, you've come to the right place to find out.

Your basic 6-foot high chain link fence. In the US, it's pretty much everywhere.
(Photo from Hardy Fence)

  • Regular Reader Dan is not entirely exaggerating when he says that chain link fences are ubiquitous. According to the US Department of Commerce, half of all fences sold in this country are chain link fences.
  • The reason for their ubiquity is, first of all, because chain link fencing has been around for a long time, probably longer than you would have guessed.
  • The first company to manufacture chain link fences in the US is Anchor Fence in 1891. They were called Anchor Post Fence Co. then. They say that the first chain link fence they ever installed is (or was, as of 2005) still standing, somewhere in New Jersey.
  • Some sources say that chain link fencing was actually first made in Norwich, England, in 1844.
  • Norwich had for centuries been a weaving town, producing finely woven fabrics. But with the Industrial Revolution, people were making more fabrics for less money. So one company (unnamed) in Norwich altered their machinery to accommodate metal rather than thread. Apparently, they initially wove a lighter gauge metal and thus invented chicken wire. Later they switched to a heavier metal, creating chain link fencing.
  • Another source agrees that chain link fencing was invented in 1844, but they say it was invented by one guy, Charles Barnard, who based its construction on woven cloth. So maybe Charles Barnard lived in Norwich.
  • Whether it's Barnard or someone else in Norwich, or Anchor Fence in the US, chain link fencing is at least 120 years old.
  • Another reason it's everywhere, and probably why that chain link fence in New Jersey is still standing, is because it's very durable.
  • The metal in chain link is steel coated with zinc or galvanized zinc. The zinc does such a good job of keeping the steel from rusting, the zinc will actually corrode before the steel does. That makes chain link incredibly durable for being so light-weight.

This cut-away shows, in Spanish, the parts of vinyl-coated chain link fencing. There's the steel core, the zinc coating, and finally the layer of PVC on the outside.
(Photo from some site that seemed to be compromised somehow)

    Chain link fencing being knit and coming off the machine in bales.
    (Photo from CLIF Chain Link Fence Factory)

    Here's a video about how chain link fencing is made. I would have embedded it, but the page didn't give me that option. There's no voice-over, so you'll have to guess what's happening at each stage. But it's pretty cool to see it coming together.

    • In addition to being durable, chain link fencing is cheap. Depending on the height, how thick you want the metal to be (thicker for commercial uses), and whether you want it coated with vinyl or galvanized, chain link fencing can cost as little as $2.50 per foot. On average, it costs about $5 to $6 per foot.
    • Other types of fences are much more expensive. Depending on the height and whether you want open slats or closed privacy fencing, wood fences start around $9 to $15 to $30 per foot. Wood won't last as long as chain link and will have to be replaced or repaired much sooner. Vinyl fencing, which is often recommended as a least-maintenance option, starts around $17 per foot and goes up to $40 per foot.
    • Chain link is also a cheap way to make an area secure. Because of that galvanization, it's difficult to cut through the metal. So that makes chain link a popular choice for schools, parking lots, land around commercial buildings or factories where they don't want people coming too close, and prisons.
    • In fact, chain link comes in two basic types of security levels. You can choose whether you want the top of your chain link fence to be rounded and climbing-friendly, or barbed and climbing-unfriendly.

    Barbed chain link fencing at the left is used mainly in commercial environments or places where you really don't want people to get in. Knuckle fencing is used in backyards, schoolyards, places where you don't want people to get hurt.
    (Image from Discount Fence Supply)

    If you really want your chain link fence to keep people out, you can have barbed wire or, in this case, razor wire installed in loops along the top of the fence.
    (Photo from Production Fenceworks)

    • Even as chain link secures an area, the fact that it's more or less see-through can be another benefit. With chain link, you can put a fence around a building without using some heavy material that's going to cut it off completely from view from the outside or, from the inside, make it seem all closed-in and dark.
        • In the case of schoolyards and recreation areas, chain link keeps balls and children from bounding out into the street even as it keeps unwelcome people out, but at the same time as it allows adults to see in to monitor their children and for the sun to reach the playing fields.
        • In the case of commercial buildings or prisons, it forms a barrier between that building and the rest of the world, but it's an unassuming kind, as if to say, "Yes, we're forbidden but it's really not that big a deal, no need to go breaking in or anything, as you can see, this building is not that interesting, so just move along."

    See what vistas are still available for viewing, even when standing behind a chain link fence?
    (Photo by the Apple Lady)

    • For all its benefits, because chain link fencing is everywhere, people are kind of sick of it. As Jeff Turrentine of the Washington Post put it:
    "Chain link is the Rodney Dangerfield of home fencing." It's cheap, durable, and secure, "yet the product's many virtues have always been dimmed by its basic unloveliness and its undeniable evocations of factories, parking lots and minimum-security prisons."
    • It sure is dang useful, though.

      You can keep your dogs inside a chain link fence . . .
      (Photo from Utah Hunting Dog Training Blog)

      . . . your tennis courts . . .
      (Photo from Indiana Wire Products)

      . . . or your water towers inside chain link fencing.
      (Photo from Production Fenceworks)

      • Recently, fencing companies have been offering some improvements in appearance by making chain link fences with vinyl coating. The vinyl coatings allow people to purchase chain link in colors other than metal-gray.
      • Another alternative is to weave slats of colored polyethylene through the chain links. These tend to be especially popular around swimming pools because they increase privacy and they add color.

      Chain link fence, but with color!
      (Photo from Great Lakes Fence Company)

        • In the end, it's still chain link fencing. Durable, secure, and cheap. Thus, everywhere.
        • One final note: I wondered why it's sometimes called cyclone or hurricane fencing. Turns out it's because people noticed that after a hurricane, it was the only thing standing. Exactly when this hurricane happened is not known. So maybe it's one of those apocryphal stories. But if there's a fence that's stood in New Jersey for over 100 years, then I think this story is probably true too.

        By the way, I'm not being slow or obtuse about not updating my Ripe Apples links in the upper right toolbar. It's Blogger. The feature that allows me to edit that box has been broken for several weeks.  I've reported the problem, as have other people, and no one has addressed the issue.  In the meantime, Blogger's photo uploader also stopped working, and I had to find a work-around.

        It may be time to migrate this enormous blog to some other hosting service. :|

        Jeff Turrentine, Chain-link fencing holds long-lasting place in time, Washington Post Times Union, June 26, 2005
        eHow, What Kind of Metal is a Chain Link Fence?
        Production Fenceworks, Galvanized Chain Link costs per foot
        Discount Fence Supply, Inc., Galvanized Chain Link Catalog
        ClevelandatHome Garden Center, Choosing a fence for your yard
        essortment, What are the Range of Fence Prices?
        Landscaping Ideas Online, Estimated Cost of a White Picket Fence
        Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, Hurricane fence


        1. Really love this topic, I had never really considered where, when, or how chainlink was invented. Being in the fence industry, I see alot of chainlink fence shipping out and installed, but who really stops to look at the history of anything we have nowadays? Makes sense that it would be some weavers, who else would think to twist up thin metal and make a fence from it? I really enjoyed reading this and look forward to future articles from you.
          (oh, and as far as keeping dogs in, chainlink isn't good for the smarter varieties, they can put their paws in the holes and climb right up and out!)

        2. Thanks, Mabel! That's high praise that I could tell someone in the fence industry something they didn't already know about their products! You can sign up for the RSS feed to be notified when I post new entries.

          Thanks for reading!

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