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Idealog—in the ideas business

Innovation of the day: The electric fence

Who: Bill Gallagher Senior

Innovation: The electric fence

What does it do?

Touch an electric fence and you'll find you'll get a nasty shock. It's as simple as that.

What problem does it solve?

It all began in the 1930s, in New Zealand, no less. Gallagher's innovative juices started flowing when he cleverly set up an electric circuit to charge the car that Joe the Horse was using as a scratching post. I assume Joe the Horse didn't use the car as a scratching post for very much longer. Gallagher built his first electric fence in 1937, which was used as part of stock management on his underdeveloped farm. He founded Gallagher Group, the company that went on to perfect the electric fence design and establish power fencing as an essential way to manage stock on farms.

A success?

Absolutely. Gallagher Group is still going strong today, and farmers are still using electric fences.

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Important to note that Gallagher was an innovator not the inventor - he developed the electric fence as a marketable product having read about the concept in Popular Mechanics. There were others - my book 'New Zealand by Design' includes:

Also in 1933, it was a bull living up to the cliché about its relationship with a gate that provided the motivation for George Brown to invent an electrical deterrent on his Waihi farm. George’s son reckons it was probably a Taranaki gate (a detachable batten and wire section of fence) with a current generated from a Model T Ford. …

Hubert Christie, a Manawatu dairy farmer, was another electric fence innovator who also began by improving on what he saw in 1930s American magazines. By 1959 his Speedrite energisers were the first to utilise solid-state technology — making them more reliable and longer lasting.

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