THE PHOENIX SHOT TOWER
A Brief History
Built in 1828, the Phoenix Shot Tower was the tallest building in the United States until 1846. It is 215 feet tall and contains an estimated 1.1 million bricks. Annually, 2.5 million pounds of “drop” shot, used for small game hunting, was made in the tower until 1892.
The tower’s design is based on Englishman William Watt’s 1782 patented the process of making shot by pouring molten lead through colanders down the open shaft of a high tower. As it spun and cooled in the air the lead became “perfectly globular in form and smooth.” The “drops” were collected in a large water barrel at the tower’s base, then sorted by size and bagged for distribution.
In 1892, new methods of shot production made the Shot Tower obsolete and it closed its doors. In 1921, permits were granted to tear down the shaft, but public reaction came out strongly against the demolition. Funds were raised and, on Oct 11, 1924, a group of Baltimore citizens bought the Shot Tower for $17,000 and donated it to the City of Baltimore with the understanding that it would be preserved.
More than fifty years passed before the Shot Tower was opened to the public as a museum. In 1973, the Phoenix Shot Tower was placed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
Today, the Shot Tower is administered by Carroll Museums, Inc. and located in Historic Jonestown.
Visitors may visit the Shot Tower by making advance reservations. Please call Carroll Museums to schedule your visit. The Tower’s exhibits include a sound and light show and video on the production of shot. Panels around the base discuss lead shot technology, the popularity of hunting with shot, the 1924 perservation effort, and the imagery of the tower in print.