Thousands of these spread throughout the Northeast and Midwest of America in the 1800s. An industry of progress, shot towers were necessary for everyday life in expanding and settling our land.
The tallest of America’s very last shot towers remains as a monument in the Baltimore skyline.
The Baltimore Shot Tower, also known as the Phoenix or Merchant’s Tower, was the highest structure in America until 1848. It is a picturesque brick structure 234 feet high. Built by German immigrants in 6 months, it is 60 feet wide at the base and 30 at the top. Over 1.1 million bricks, hand-made, went into the building of the structure. Four and a half feet thick at the base, the tower narrows to only two feet thick at the top. Charles Carroll, the financier of the Revolution, the wealthiest man in America, and the longest surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence, laid the cornerstone.
From 1828 until 1900 over 100,000 bags of gunshot, some say buckshot, were produced yearly from the Tower. Up at the top, molten lead was poured through screens and funnels making tear drop shapes of lead that became rounder and more cylindrical as they cooled and fell into a rotating puddle of water in the Tower base. Lead was melted at the base, up the steps, and at the top of the Tower, depending on quantities. The shot was used for cannon and musket around the world.
During the Civil War, Union officers were assigned to duty at the top, viewing the southern city of Baltimore for any trouble. They would signal cannons on Federal Hill across Baltimore’s basin river Patapsco. Today visitors can go up the more than 300 small steps for free and view the Inner Harbor.
Other towers are said to remain in Virginia, Iowa, and Minnesota. However, they are much shorter and in disrepair. The Baltimore Shot Tower, with its Baltimore city flag atop, remains one of the last examples of an industry necessary for settling the frontier and spreading civilization in America.
Photos from Paul-Allan Lewis