"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search
After the CIVIL WAR, the shot tower had an observatory built on top so that the building could be used as a watch tower.

SHOT TOWER. The process of producing lead SHOT with a tower for military or individual ammunition was patented by William Watts on September 28, 1782. (1) LEAD was melted and then dropped through a copper sieve high in the tower. The liquid lead solidified as it fell and by surface tension formed tiny spheres. The partially cooled balls were caught at the floor of the tower in a water-filled basin. The fully cooled balls were checked for roundness and sorted by size; those that are "out of round" were remelted. A slightly inclined table was used for checking roundness. To make larger shot sizes, a copper sieve with larger holes was used. The maximum size was limited by the height of the tower; larger shot sizes must fall farther to cool. (2)

Image courtesy: Joe Schallan

The shot tower of George W. Rogers & Co. stood on an extension of Seventh street. Rising to a height of about 150 feet — 142 feet of stone and 42 of brick, the tower's base was 18 feet 10 inches. At the base, walls were three feet thick and twenty inches at the top. The cost of construction by 1856 was $7,000.00 and eventually rose to $10,000. When completed, the tower could produce from six to eight tons of shot. (3)

As soon as it was built and operating, the tower threatened the monopoly over shot production enjoyed by Chadbourne and Foster of St. Louis, Missouri. The St. Louis company retaliated by cutting their prices and then actually selling shot below cost. (4) This drove Rogers and Company out of business. The tower was leased to Peleg TALLMAN and William Hyde CLARK for three months before they too quit. (5) For the rest of 1859, the tower was operated by Peter Cook and William Langworthy, two directors of the DUBUQUE HARBOR IMPROVEMENT COMPANY. The George W. Rogers Company became Cook, Rogers & Company and later Cook and Langworthy between 1858 and 1859. (6)

The tower and the land on which it stood was sold to Gilbert Woodruff of Rockford, Illinois for $1,653 at public auction on March 14, 1860. The following day, he sold the parcel to Julius K. GRAVES, for only $1,200 suggesting a partnership of some sort had been arranged. (7)

Graves retaliated against Chadbourne and Foster by encouraging customers to purchase their shot from the St. Louis firm. (8) Since the St. Louis company was selling below their cost of production, this placed a huge financial burden on them. Graves' fellow shareholders, however, were not making the profits they expected and became tired of battling the St. Louis company. Graves bought up their stock for five cents on the dollar. (9)

Flooding impacted shot production. The Daily Times of April 24, 1861 reported:

         Shot Tower--We are informed by one of 
         the proprietors of this fine building 
         that as soon as the high water subsides 
         in the river, they will commence the 
         manufacture of shot once more. (10)

In addition to the manufacture of shot, the tower became place to show national pride. The Daily Times of May 24, 1861 reported:

         J. K. Graves, Esq., a gentleman who is 
         largely interested in this enterprise, 
         purchased a large flag the other day 
         which cost him $40, which he intends to 
         raise upon a tall pole from the top of 
         the shot tower on the receipt of the 
         news of the the first battle and victory 
         for the Union. Good for him. (11)

The Herald on May 31, 1861 announced:

         THE HIGHEST FLAG IN IOWA--The patriotic 
         proprietors of the Shot Tower raised 
         yesterday a fine S.B.B. on a staff above
         the top of the tower, 160 feet from the 
         ground.  We doubt whether there is a pole 
         of that height in the State. At least, Dubuque 
         will claim the honor of the highest flag
         until further news. (12)

Graves' letter to Governor Kirkwood in late May, 1861 suggests that Graves, a banker, may have had a patriotic interest in the shot tower.

         As sole owner of the "Dubuque Shot Tower" I
         take this occasion to tender the use of said
         property to (the) Government for the manufacture
         of such supplies of Bulletts (sic) and other
         Leaden missiles of war as may be required during
         the continuance of the present troubles--without
         money and without price.--The Tower is in good
         running condition and is at your immediate service. (13)

State ordinance records during the CIVIL WAR do not show Graves being taken up on his offer. Iowa's weapons were large caliber foreign imports including Garibaldi rifles and Prussian muskets of caliber .71 and .72 respectively. These weapons came with their own bullet molds. (14)

Failing to secure government contracts, Graves turned to shot production for civilian use. (15) An advantage for the Dubuque operation was the destruction by fire of a competing shot tower in Helena, Wisconsin. The accumulation of 100,000 pounds of lead bars and the lack of railroad cars once the war began meant that the Dubuque shot company had large supplies of low cost material. In mid-March, 1862 shot production ranged from 100 to 150 bags daily. (16) New machinery was added. The Daily Times of March 19, 1862 stated:

         The original intention of the company was 
         to build machinery and shops for the manufacture 
         of bar lead, lead pipe, sheet lead and other 
         articles made from lead, but they were so overrun 
         with business at present that they find it expedient 
         to devote their whole energies to the manufacture of 
         shot and bar lead alone. (17)

Given the positive news of production, it came as a shock to the community to read the Daily Times of July 18, 1862.

          THE SHOT TOWER IS SOLD. J. K. Graves, Esq., informs
          us that the shot tower in this city has been sold to
          Mr. Chadbourn of the Saint Louis Shot Manufacturing
          Company. It has been purchased by them because it
          interfered so much with their trade, and we learn
          with regret it is their intention to take out the
          machinery, board up the doors, and close the
          establishment merely because it had become too powerful
          a rival. (18)

According to legend, Graves was able to sell all his shares for fifty cents on the dollars making him a small fortune. (19) Part of the agreement stipulated that Graves could not make shot from a tower again in the area.

Producing shot in mines had been done since 1831 in Wisconsin. (20) Graves was undoubtedly aware of the practice and repeated it immediately in business with Caleb H. BOOTH and William CARTER. What happened next is open to question. According to legend, Chadbourne and Foster sued claiming Graves had violated his contract. He responded that he had not used a tower and won the case. Defeated, the company of Chadbourne and Foster left Dubuque without destroying the competition or the tower as they had suggested. (21) The fact that Graves immediately went to work manufacturing shot can be proven. The problem with the legend is that there is a lack of documentation that the case was ever tried. (22) There is not even evidence of contemporary notice of any such event in the newspapers. (23)

The construction of the RAILROAD BRIDGE turned the shot tower property into a rail yard in 1868. Very little riverfront development had occurred since 1857. There were only a few warehouses dating to 1856-1857 to the south of the Shot Tower. (24)

Image: National Register of Historic Places

Chadbourne and Foster was never known to have used the Shot Tower--other than in advertisements. LAFLIN, SMITH AND COMPANY which became LAFLIN AND RAND POWDER COMPANY was their local agent as early as September 1861. (25) The company continued to use the image of the tower in their order forms into the 1870s despite the fact that they had lost the tower because of their failure to pay back taxes in early 1871. (26) The Daily Times of August 26, 1871 noted:

       SOLD FOR DELINQUENT TAXES.--The old and conspicuous
       landmark, the Dubuque Shot Tower, which stands near 
       the western terminus of the railroad bridge, was sold
       yesterday for delinquent taxes.  The tower was purchased
       some years ago by a St. Louis shot company merely to
       prevent competition, and has been permitted to stand
       idle ever since.  The company it seems have (sic)neglected
       to pay the taxes accruing upon the same, and hence the
       sale. (27)

The condition of the tower declined. The Daily Herald of April 17, 1873 reported:

        Venturesome boys are in the habit of playing in the 
        shot tower and climb up the inside nearly to its top 
        on old and decayed stairs and woodwork liable to give 
        way at any moment. The practice is a dangerous one and 
        unless discontinued will result in an accident if not 
        death.  The windows of the shaft should be boarded up 
        to prevent egress. (28)

A mysterious notice appeared in the Dubuque Herald on January 30, 1874 advising people to watch the shot tower for "equine statuary." (29) The statue turned out to be Andrew Jackson on horseback, a figure which had stood for years on the property of Tom Cavanaugh in Dubuque. (30) The statue was placed on the tower by John DEERY on January 31, 1874 and was not removed until 1881. (31)

On July 4, 1874 Tom Collins attempted a well-publicized jump from the top of the tower into the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. He never surfaced and what were reported to be his remains were received two days later in a metallic coffin from Davenport. Friends of the deceased could view his remains in the Atheneum Building. (32)

Around January of 1878 fire struck the shot tower. In its reconstruction by the Flick brothers, the facilities for the manufacture of shot were doubled. (33)

On May 11, 1881 Chadbourne and Forster sold the property to C. J. Lesure for $425.00. Lesure removed the statue of Jackson and along with William Harrison DAY, Sr. and the Empire Lumber Company of Eau Claire, Wisconsin incorporated the STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY. Standard Lumber acquired the Shot Tower property on June 24, 1881 from Lesure for $600.00 which included the tower and six lots. (34)

The STANDARD LUMBER COMPANY used the tower, equipped with an interior staircase and glass-enclosed shelter on the top, to safeguard up to seven blocks of lumber. (35)

The interior of the shot tower burns.

Disastrous fires set by arsonists in 1911 ruined the company and destroyed the inner wooden framework of the tower. (36)

In 1915 at the death of Senator William Boyd ALLISON, led to the founding of the Allison-Henderson Memorial Association. On October 23, 1915 the Association represented by John R. Waller, purchased the tower and surrounding area for $12,000 for dedication as a park. (37) The Association transferred the property to the city in August 1916. The city was allowed to sell some of the land as long as eighty percent of the proceeds would pay for a memorial park within the city. The city accepted a mortgage that was part of the purchase price and became the clear titleholder as of March, 1921. (38) Land was sold which led to the creation of ALLISON-HENDERSON PARK at the intersection of North Grandview and University.

In 1930 the park board rejected the idea of turning the shot tower into a monument. (39) The idea had been proposed to use the tower to memorialize Allison and David B. HENDERSON. In 1934 the tower of selected for documentation by the Historic American Buildings Survey Program of the Department of Interior. This was the nation's first federal preservation program and employed architects, draftsmen, and engineers during the GREAT DEPRESSION. (40)

Local efforts were made to improve the area around the tower. The DUBUQUE WOMEN'S CLUB in late 1931 suggested the city take steps to preserve the tower. It also recommended installing a beacon light on the tower in the event an airport might be established. (41) Following WORLD WAR II, the tower became an Iowa icon through a series of articles in The Palimpsest published by the State Historical Society of Iowa. In 1949 the Girl Scouts proposed to plant shrubbery around the tower's base if the city cleaned up the area. (42) Nothing was done.

In 1952 the Chamber of Commerce gave its support for tower restoration. A study of the city engineer suggested a $7,000 project cost. The Beautification Committee reported in early 1953 its recommendations for sealing the lower openings, installation of a roof, and completion of a building survey. Fund-raising for between $5,000-$15,000 would center on a school-based approach. (43) The first tower restoration work was discussed in 1956 with estimates for tuck-pointing, replacement concrete sills, concrete roof cap and other work reaching $7,500. (44)

In 1959 concerned citizens rallied behind an S.O.S. (Save Our Shot Tower) campaign chaired by Henry Miller. (45) The plan of the S. O. S. Committee had three parts. (46)

        1. The first phase will be a general 
           fix-up to prevent the tower from 
           deteriorating further. This will
           include repairing the structure--
           tuck pointing parts of the stone 
           shell that need it. After repairs, 
           the committee hopes to illuminate 
           the area at night.
        2. The second phase will involve a 
           general cleanup of the area surrounding 
           the tower. Industries in the area have 
           promised cooperation in the project. 
           The original exterior appearance of the 
           tower will also be restored.
        3. The final phase calls for a complete 
           restoration of the tower as it was in 1856 
           and the establishment of Shot Tower Park. 
           This would involve equipping the tower so it 
           actually could make shot. The entire area 
           around the tower would be landscaped and 
           tours would be conducted through the shot 

Canisters were placed in restaurants and stores for donations. (47) Famed radio personality Paul Harvey announced the campaign to the 470 stations carrying his news program over the American Broadcasting Network. (48) When the drive ended in February 1960, $6,700 had been contributed including $25 from U. S. Grant III, the grandson of the CIVIL WAR general. The Dubuque City Council allocated $5,000 for repairs, but the DUBUQUE COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY claimed another $7,000 would be needed for proper restoration. (49) The resulting restoration included tuck-pointing the interior and exterior, repairing the windows, replacing deteriorating brick, and placing a trapdoor on the roof were completed in 1960. (50)

In 1963 the DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION placed a plaque on the tower reading:

         The Dubuque Shot Tower was built in 1856, 
         used for making lead shot and bullets in use 
         commercially for 3 years.  Later used as a 
         watch tower by a lumber company to guard against 
         fire. The interior woodwork and the top were 
         destroyed by fire in 1911. Restored in 1961 by 
         citizens of Dubuque. Marked by Dubuque Chapter, 
         Daughters of the American Revolution, 1961. (51)

The Shot Tower was protected against further flooding by the FLOODWALL. (52)

Joseph Pickett's bicentennial project was producing shot. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

In 1976 the Shot Tower was listed on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES by Helen MERCER. (53) The tower was again used for shot production the same year by Joseph PICKETT, Sr. With a scaffolding supplied free by JACKSON TUCK POINTING COMPANY INC., Pickett aided by Dr. Richard Vermeer produced 1,000 bottles of shot as a fund raising project for the Dubuque County Historical Society. (54)

In November, 1986 the city council cut $25,500 from the budget for tuckpointing the tower after the local option sales tax option was defeated. The tuckpointing proposal was moved to 1991. (55)

In 1987 the Shot Tower rose between Pillsbury Company grain terminal and the raised tracks of the Chicago, Central and Pacific Railroad. Although there was a proposal to move the tower, the Jaycees considering it for a spruce-up project. (56)

A railroad car jumped the tracks on November 15, 1992; hit the tower; and caused between $5,000 to $10,000 in damage which was billed to the Chicago, Central and Pacific. (57) Following the accident, an editorial in the Telegraph Herald called for efforts to make the area around the tower more attractive and convenient for visitors. The possibilities of needing a public-private partnership similar to the clock tower project or the effort in 1959 were suggested. (58)

In 1996 officials again suggested that the tower should be moved. (59) The idea had originally been proposed in 1986 in a market and development study by the University of Wisconsin conducted for the GREATER DUBUQUE DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION. (60) For the safety of visitors, a consultant suggested disassembling the tower and rebuilding it just south of the DUBUQUE STAR BREWING COMPANY as part of the proposed river walk project. In addition to the unknown cost of moving the tower, concerns were raised as to whether the relocation would cause the tower to lose its listing on the NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES. (61) Any thought of moving the tower was dismissed in July 1997 when the city staff and advisory commissions recommended and the city council unanimously approved placing the river walk on top of the flood wall and not along Bell Street. (62)

Restoration of the Shot Tower became feasible in 2003. The City of Dubuque Planning Services Department received a $100,000 Historic Sites Preservation Grant for Phase I of the project from the State Historical Society of Iowa. (63) The Dubuque City Council had budgeted $200,000 for rehabilitation as part of the Vision Iowa application. (64). The entire project was estimated to cost $500.000. (65) Phase I would stabilize the deterioration of the building at an estimated cost of $225,000. Phase II would include the construction of a non-combustible stairway to an observation platform at a project cost of $275,000. (66)

In 2004 the City of Dubuque received a Save America's Treasures grant of $295,000 from the federal government for restoration of the tower. (67) The grant would be used to correct structural problems of the tower and provide an opportunity for interpretation. (68) The City of Dubuque and the State Historical Society would provide matching funds. (69)


In 2020 the Shot Tower was involved in one of the creative design promotions of McCullough Creative for KEYLINE. There was no Tilt the Tower campaign going on in Dubuque, but the audacious nature of the graphic was sure to catch the eye of drivers at the low cost of approximately $4 per 1,000 viewers. (70)

NOTE: For a video on the archaeological excavation and the renovation, see: http://cityofdubuque.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=3&clip_id=2687 produced by the City of Dubuque.



1. Minchinton, Walter. "Lead Shot Towers Around the World," History Today, November 5, 2013. Online: http://www.historytoday.com/walter-minchinton/lead-shot-towers-around-world

2. "Shot Tower Lead-Melting Bowl," Wisconsin Historical Society. Online: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/museum/artifacts/archives/003290.asp

3. Oldt, Franklin T. History of Dubuque County, Iowa. http://www.ebooksread.com/authors-eng/franklin-t-oldt/history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl/page-13-history-of-dubuque-county-iowa-being-a-general-survey-of-dubuque-county-histor-tdl.shtml

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

5. National Register of Historic Places, Online: http://weblink.cityofdubuque.org/WebLink8/1/doc/16333/Page52.aspx,

6. Ibid., p. 54

7. Ibid.

8. "Old Shot Tower..."

9. Ibid.

10. National Register, p. 56

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid. p 57

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., p. 58

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., p. 60

18. Ibid., p. 61

19. "The Old Shot Tower," Telegraph Herald, April 5, 1914, p. 7. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=j3FiAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AncNAAAAIBAJ&pg=4259,7228461&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

20. Ibid.

21. Ibid.

22. National Register of Historic Places, p. 62

23. Ibid. p. 68

24. Ibid., p. 76

25. Ibid., p. 64

26. Ibid., p. 77

27. Ibid., p. 78

28. Ibid., p. 78

29. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 30, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740130&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

30. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, February 1, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740201&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

31. National Register of Historic Places, p. 79

32. "Death of Tom Collins," Dubuque Herald, July 7, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740707&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

33. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, January 22, 1878, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18780122&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

34. National Register of Historic Places, p. 81

35. Kirchen, Rich. "Shot Tower Holds Its Lonely Ground," Telegraph Herald, March 23, 1987, p. 2. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=MJVSAAAAIBAJ&sjid=8ssMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3400,4115806&dq=shot+tower+dubuque&hl=en

36. "Historic Shot Tower is Put Up for Sale," Milwaukee Sentinel, Jan. 26, 1930, p. 18, Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=wl5QAAAAIBAJ&sjid=2w4EAAAAIBAJ&pg=6847,4577331&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

37. National Register of Historic Places, p. 90

38. Ibid.

39. Historic Shot Tower..."

40. Ibid. p. 91

41. Ibid.

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid., p. 94

44. Ibid., p. 95

45. "S O S 'Push' Planned," Telegraph Herald, November 20, 1959, p. 22. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=8oRFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ybwMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3135,2575933&dq=sos+campaign+dubuque&hl=en

46. "Fund-Raising Committee Formed...S.O.S. Save Our Shot Tower," Telegraph Herald November 1, 1959, p. 1

47. Ibid.

48. Kirchen, Rich.

49. Ibid.

50. Kruse, Len. My Old Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa: Center For Dubuque History, Loras College, 2000. p. 23

51. "Dubuque Shot Tower Gets Marker Friday," Telegraph-Herald, June 9, 1963, p. 2

52. National Register of Historic Places, p. 96

53. Ibid., p. 97

54. Ibid.

55. Kirchen

56. " 'S O S Fund at $6,000," Telegraph Herald, Jan. 1, 1960, p. 12. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=gItFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=57wMAAAAIBAJ&pg=3060,139664&dq=sos+campaign+dubuque&hl=en

57. Arnold, Bill. "Longshot," Telegraph Herald, April 6, 1992, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920406&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

58. "Shot Tower--Time to Tap Its Tourism Potential," (editorial), Telegraph Herald, April 10, 1992, p. 4. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=E2NFAAAAIBAJ&sjid=K7wMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6427,2159846&dq=shot+tower+dubuque&hl=en

59. McDermott, Brad. "Shot Spot," Telegraph Herald, August 22, 1996, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=IvBQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=ursMAAAAIBAJ&pg=5295,4046499&dq=shot+manufacturing+dubuque&hl=en

60. Kirchen

61. Ibid.

62. McDermott, Brad. "No Movement on Shot Tower; It Stays Put," Telegraph Herald, September 27, 1997, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19970927&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

63. "Shot Tower Project Receives Grant," Telegraph Herald, December 11, 2003, p. 3. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=_JNdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=llwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=3839,1983895&dq=shot+tower+dubuque&hl=en

64. Ibid.

65. Ibid.

66. Ibid.

67. Szeszycki, Emily. "Grant to Aid Shot Tower," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 22, 2004, p. 1. Online: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=RJ1dAAAAIBAJ&sjid=0VwNAAAAIBAJ&pg=2280,4588394&dq=shot+tower+dubuque&hl=en

68. Ibid.

69. Ibid.

70. City Of Dubuque – Bus Advertising - McCullough Creative. ONLINE: www.shootforthemoon.com