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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Bag used for selling shot. Photo courtesy: National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium

SHOT. Polished LEAD spheres used in firearms before the invention of bullets. Manufactured in Dubuque at the SHOT TOWER, lead shot proved to be one of Dubuque's earliest and most controversial products. Molten lead combined with arsenic was poured through a sieve, a piece of sheet iron with holes punched into it at regular intervals. The size of the holes determined the size of the shot being manufactured. The lead continued to fall through as many as nine sieves which formed the shot into its proper size. The spheres finally fell into a tank of cold water at the bottom of the tower and were collected. (1) The rough spheres were polished in a rotating cask before being packaged in bags for sale. Imperfect shot were separated out and remelted.

In 1860 the firm of Chadburne and Forster, a St. Louis manufacturer of shot capable of producing one thousand bags of shot daily, purchased Dubuque's SHOT TOWER for $3,000. (2) They promised to spend $5,000 to improve the tower, but really hoped monopolize the business by removing a competitor from the market. (3) Part of the agreement was that the sellers would not erect another shot tower in Dubuque. (4) The day after the purchase, the cost of shot increased twenty-five cents. (5)

The CIVIL WAR drove up the demand for shot. James Hughes and the MINING firm of Booth, Carter and Company were determined to resume the local business. Hughes constructed a new tower on Julien Drive and briefly prospered. On a $12,000 investment, he was able to produce 500 bags of shot daily. (6) After his second fire, however, he quit the business. (7)

Caleb H. BOOTH, William CARTER, Julius K. GRAVES, and Richard Cheney were more successful. Constructing the necessary buildings over a 157 foot deep mine shaft on the southern border of HIGHLAND STOCK FARM, these men dropped the molted lead through screens thus creating a shot tower underground that remained in business from 1861 to 1886. (8). The company was soon able to produce sufficient shot for buyers in Chicago and St. Paul. (9) So successful was the business that the following editorial was printed in the Dubuque Daily Times on Sunday, July 27, 1863:

              If C & F want to buy up all our mineral holes
              now is the time to do it. (10)

A fire destroyed the business in 1877, but it was rebuilt in 1878 and resumed production. The capacity of the business was 60,000 twenty-five pound bags annually. (11)

By 1867 the firm of Carter, Rogers and Company with an investment of $15,000 built a two-story brick building over a shaft near the residence of Caleb H. BOOTH. This was in an area known as West Dubuque. (12)

Despite the other firms manufacturing shot, Chadburne and Forster's filed a lawsuit against the former owners of the shot tower claiming they were violating the terms of their sale. The defendants, however, claimed that they had not violated the contract because they were not using a tower. The defendants won the case; Chadburne and Forster left Dubuque.

Joseph Pickett's bicentennial project was producing shot. Photo Courtesy: Bob Reding
As a bicentennial project, Joseph Pickett returned to the shot tower to make shot. His plans called for him to pour enough lead to provide the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY with one thousand bottles of shot for sale. (13) The first bottle, auctioned off by Mayor Alvin Emil LUNDH, sold for thirty-five dollars.

See: SHOT TOWER (James Hughes)



1. "The Old Shot Tower," Telegraph Herald and Times Journal, Oct. 11, 1931, p. 7. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YpBSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Mr4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=4422,4499123&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. "Tower is Put Up for Sale," The Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 25, 1930, p. 18. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=wl5QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2w4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6847,4577331&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

5. "The Old Shot Tower."

6. "The Manufacturing Interest," Dubuque Daily Herald, December 15, 1867, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=jMZCAAAAIBAJ&sjid=casMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3423,6144162&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

7. "Dubuque County Before 1880," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 19, 1933, p. 17. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-P9BAAAAIBAJ&sjid=U6oMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5068,2467848&dq=cooper+wagons+dubuque&hl=en

8. "Shot Tower, Now in Ruins, on the Standard Lumber Company's Grounds, and Its Unique History," Telegraph Herald, Apr. 5, 1914, p. 13. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=j3FiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AncNAAAAIBAJ&pg=4259,7228461&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

9. Ibid.

10. "The Old Shot Tower."

11. Ibid.

12. "The Manufacturing Interest."

13. Fyten, David. "Bicentennial Schedule is Growing," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 28, 1975, p. 6. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=x_1QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OL4MAAAAIBAJ&pg=6213,4551143&dq=bicentennial+lead+shot+dubuque&hl=en]