Barbed tape was first manufactured by Germany during World War I, as an expedient measure during a shortage of wire. Since it was simply punched out of a rolled ribbon of steel tape, it could also be manufactured much faster. This early barbed tape had triangular barbs, and no reinforcing wire. Consequently, although it was harder to cut with ordinary wire cutters, it was easier to cut with shears, and generally weaker.
Commencing in the early 1970s, unreinforced barbed tape started to be commonly used in perimeter barriers in US prisons. Several manufacturers of barbed wire and barbed tape began to offer barbed tape with a reinforcing wire in the early 1980s. The first to be manufactured was probably around 1981, although this has been subject to a patent dispute. Early brand names of reinforced barbed tape included "Man Barrier" and "Razor Ribbon"; the latter probably lent its name to the modern slang term Razor Wire.
Starting in the late 1960s, barbed tape was typically found in prisons and long term mental hospitals, where the increased breaching time for a poorly equipped potential escapee was a definite advantage. Until the development of reinforced barbed tape in the early 1980s, it was rarely used for military purposes or genuine high security facilities because it was actually easier to breach with the correct tools. Since then, however, some military forces have also replaced barbed wire with barbed tape for many applications, mainly because it is slightly lighter for the same effective coverage.
More recently, barbed tape has been seen in more commercial and residential security applications, and can be used practically in any situation where additional security is required.