The Phoenix Shot Tower was the tallest structure in the United States when it was completed in 1828, and remained so until 1846. In the past, shot towers were designed to create an ordinance for cannon and small arms. The process was to drop molten lead from the top of the tower through a vat of cold water at the bottom of the tower. While in operation, the Phoenix Shot Tower made more than 2.5 million pounds of drop shot. According to the Carroll Museum that preserves the tower and offers tours, the Phoenix Shot Tower is comprised of approximately 1.1 million bricks.
The Phoenix Shot Tower was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
History of the Phoenix Shot Tower
For decades, the Phoenix Shot Tower in Baltimore was the city’s most visible landmark. Built in 1828, the original purpose of the structure was to manufacture lead shot. As a shot tower, workers dropped molten lead from a platform at the top through a sieve-like device. The molten lead then fell into a vat of cold water where it hardened. Every year, nearly 1,000,000 bags (each weighing 25 pounds) were created in the tower. With its unprecedented height of over 234 feet, it was the tallest structure in the United States until 1846.
The Phoenix Shot Tower remained in operation until 1892, when new methods of shot production rendered the tower obsolete. In 1921, the Baltimore City granted permits to tear down the tower, but a public outcry stopped demolition; three years later, citizens bought the tower for $17,000. Nowadays, Carroll Museums, Inc manages the tower and organizes public tours. Even today, the Phoenix Shot Tower is the last remaining of four such towers in Baltimore and one of the very few still in existence.
There are tours of the tower on weekends. Visitors meet at the Carroll Mansion at 8th and Lombard by 4 pm to join the tour.1
1.) Statement of Significance at the National Park Service's National Historic Landmark Program website, accessed March 13, 2016, http://focus.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/69000373.pdf
Marsha Wight Wise, “Phoenix Shot Tower,” Explore Baltimore Heritage, accessed March 13, 2016, http://explore.baltimoreheritage.org/items/show/200.